Nursing and Sleep Deprivation
"Oh! I am so tired that even when I close my eyes I dream and I want to sleep! This would be a very typical state of our LVN nursing students, while attending the LVN program. And it is true for most typical nursing students. Between a morning job, a night-time LVN class, and home with family and kids, with preparations for exams and homework assignments, they hardly have enough time to sleep and restore.
But what does happen during those hours of sleep? And why do we really need sleep? If we are supposed to spend eight hours a day asleep, nearly one third of one's life is spent in bed! Some people say that they have adjusted to only five hours of sleep a day or even less. But did their bodies truly adjust?
Scientific research shows that only 3% of population can survive and work efficiently with only 6 hours of sleet, but not less. An average human is supposed to sleep eight hours. So, why is sleep so important? Many scientific experiments have been done studying sleep, its quality, and the body's response to lack of sleep. The most obvious result of sleep deprivation, according to research, is a vast detrimental effect on one's cognitive function. Very clearly, the subjects of the experiments, after being prevented from sleeping for more than 24 hours, showed a significant slowing in their information processing abilities. Their responses to questions were delayed, their vision clarity deteriorated, their speech was much slower, and in many cases, they experienced somewhat similar to aphasia, a phenomenon, when you can not say what you want to say, or can not come up with the right words to express thought.
The effects of sleep deprivation were especially noticeable in memory formation and learning. A student, such as our LVN student and LVN certification, was given some facts to memorize, and then asked to regurgitate the information. When percent information retrieved in well-rested students versus in the sleep-deprived students were compared, the results were astonishing: the sleep-deprived student could remember less facts and in much fewer details. So, something happens when we sleep that allows the brain to restore the recently formed neuronal connections and make those connections stronger and more long-lasting.
We discover many important functions of sleep toward restoration and regeneration of the body, but one of the most exciting findings is the effects of sleep on the aging process. We know that laboratory rats that were prevented from sleeping, aged much faster and diet of natural causes much sooner than their control counterparts. In humans, we can see that sleep deprivation raises the levels of the most dangerous, age-promoting hormone, cortisol. This hormone, produced in the adrenal cortex, promotes oxidative damage in all the tissues of the brain, inducing inflammatory processes, which promote the development of chronic diseases and aging. Moreover, this hormone has been linked to age-related deterioration of the brain function, such as the one seen in Alzheimer's dementia patients. And interestingly, as we age, the portion of the night we spend in the deep restorative sleep becomes smaller and smaller. Perhaps, this also contributes to age-related chronic diseases and deterioration of organ systems?
We now know that many on-the-job human errors happen due to the sleep deprivation. Sometimes, these errors can be quite devastating, such as the Chernobyl incident, for instance. Or a sleep-deprived doctor giving the wrong order or a wrong prescription is simply dangerous to patients. We can not allow such errors to happen in medicine or patient care. This is why we educate our nursing students, while attending an LVN college about the importance of quality sleep in maximizing human potential and minimizing mistakes.