Millions of Americans are sleep deprived — and it's literally killing us

It's a public health crisis, experts say.

  • 17 percent of all fatal car accidents are caused by sleep deprivation.
  • Seven to 8 hours is recommended for adult humans, more for adolescents.
  • About 1/3 of all adults are not getting at least seven hours of sleep each night.

A lack of sleep is frequently seen as something that people simply need to "power through" in order to get things done, or cope with events happening in their lives, work demands, etc. Recent studies, however, makes it more clear: This is a public health crisis.

Photo credit: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP/ Getty Images

It's not just that sleep deprivation causes 17 percent of all fatal crashes for automobile drivers; sleep deprived workers are 70 percent more likely to cause on-the-job accidents, as well. (And here are 5 of the most famous industrial or on-the-job accidents caused by sleep deprivation. It's a thing, y'all.)

A chronic lack of sleep can lead to Alzheimer's, dementia, and other problems later in life, as well. Indeed, recent brain research shows that even a single night of sleep deprivation boosts the level of proteins that form toxic lumps found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. That same study showed an increase in a protein related to Parkinson's disease was also correlated with sleep deprivation.

Image source: STR / AFP / Getty Images

According to Science Daily, one in three adults report usually sleeping for fewer than seven hours a night. An estimated 7 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. and 17 percent of fatal crashes involve driver sleep deprivation; those who sleep less than 4 hours before getting behind the wheel are over 15 times more likely to cause an accident, with the same impairment as a driver who is at 1.5 times the legal alcohol limit.

So... how much is enough sleep to avoid all of this?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqONk48l5vY&feature=youtu.be

Screen capture from video below

Experts suggest 7 to 8 hours — some people need more, especially as they get older or their brains mature, such as during adolescence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as of just a few years ago, about one-third of all adults are not getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night.

Indeed, some scientists who study sleep are even suggesting the crisis is on par with the obesity epidemic — a startling comparison."It used to be popular for people to say, 'I'll sleep when I'm dead.' The ironic thing is, not sleeping enough may get you there sooner," said Daniel Buysse, a professor of sleep medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

​Here's a bit more of what's happening to your brain when you sleep — or don't, as the case may be:


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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

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  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.