Sleep deserves our respect

Ever elusive, ever important, sleep is in the news again. University of Wisconsin researchers have discovered that sleep promotes the production of cells that create myelin, an insulating material that protects our brain’s circuitry. The findings could lead to insights about sleep’s role in brain repair and growth as well as the disease MS, the researchers reported in the Journal of Neuroscience. The team is also interested in testing whether lack of sleep, especially during adolescence, may have long-term consequences for the brain.

(U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently joined others in calling for later school start times because research shows teens have a tough time learning in the early hours, unlike children.)

What’s already known, according to the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is that deep sleep coincides with the release of growth hormone in children and young adults, BBC News reported. Many of the body’s cells also show increased production and reduced breakdown of proteins during deep sleep. Overall, sleep appears necessary for our nervous systems to work properly.

The importance of sleep and how much we need, however, is diametrically opposed to how much people actually get. The CDC reports that up to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders or deprivation that can affect their health, while the National Sleep Foundation estimates that 25 percent of Americans take some type of sleep medication at some point during the year,

Many factors contribute to lack of sleep, not the least of which is stress. Then the lack of sleep becomes another stressor. A vicious circle, as they say. But not one without solutions. As a society, we do tend to contribute to our own woes. As Americans struggle to get to sleep or to get enough, it likely doesn’t occur to enough of us that our coffee, Mountain Dew or energy drink habit is a major factor in our sleeplessness. Even as we swallow our sleep aid.

A University of Miami study, relying on self-reports, found that energy drinks are consumed by 30 to 50 percent of adolescents and young adults. Of the 5,448 caffeine overdoses reported by 57 poison control centers in the U.S. in 2007, about 50 percent of those occurred in children, Medcity News reported.

Sleep deserves respect, and promotion, just as much as healthy eating and exercise. Such a prescription is not exciting like energy drinks, or seductive, like sleep aids. It’s boring and old school. But important.

(One suggestion for guaranteed sleep, without a prescription: Read, or have someone read to you, the Affordable Care Act, page by page, section by section…)

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