Why You Can’t Remember Much

How did you sleep last night? If you’re like as many as 70 million adults in the United States, the answer is “not so well.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has recently labeled lack of sleep an epidemic. In surveys, the CDC has found that because of a lack of sleep, 50 million American adults over the age of 20 have trouble concentrating, and nearly 40 million have trouble remembering.

The memory difficulties are tied to the fact that sleep deprivation apparently disrupts parts of the brain that are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. The CDC says sleep difficulties can be the cause of long-term fatal illnesses such as high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity, depression and cancer. People who are sleep deprived, according to a recent study, eat more and are more likely to be overweight.

More than a third of 74,571 adults surveyed by the CDC in recent years reported getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, about one-two hours less than recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Half said they snore most nights, and 37% said they unintentionally fell asleep at least once during the day in the past month. Nearly 5% said they fell asleep at the wheel at least once in the preceding 30 days. Try to get your head around the idea that 5% of the people driving along with you on the highway are likely to fall asleep at the wheel sometime in the next month.

I doubt that many readers are surprised that lots of people are sleep deprived. But I’ll bet you’d be surprised to learn that a good night’s sleep is now seen as just as important to your health as what you eat and how often you exercise. Sleep is rapidly being seen as one of those three critical support systems to living long and living well. The CDC couldn’t be clearer: It says a good night’s sleep is “not a luxury — but a necessity.”

Clifford Saper, a physician and professor of neurology and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, said the findings showed that “we cannot underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Brain imaging and behavioral studies are illuminating the brain pathways that are blocked or contorted by sleep deprivation, and the risks this poses to learning, memory and mental health.”

At the same time, our arsenal for helping people who don’t sleep well is weak. You’d be ill-advised to take many sleep medications unless you desperately need them. I think many of us know people who carry Ambien or other powerful sleeping pills around with them at all times. And almost all of them report that whatever pill they take, even though it may knock them out for the night, leaves them feeling less than great the day after. Meanwhile, most of those pills, including Ambien, are addictive and not recommended for use for more than four weeks.

But there are glimmers of hope for better medicines. Clinicaltrials.gov lists more than 1,500 studies focused on sleep that are underway and hundreds that involve drug candidates.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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