I am, by nature, a Type A personality. In some ways this is good, because there is an inner drive within me to be effective and get things done, which can be useful and allow me to accomplish much. However, sometimes my personality type can cause me to get insufficient amounts of sleep.
I am fortunate that I have not developed too many other negative health habits. I rarely drink alcohol and I don't smoke. I exercise intermittently, and lead a fairly active lifestyle. However, I often find myself so busy that I just don't go to bed - and while it might sound productive, this is not a good thing.
Usually, when I go several days without good sleep, I will still be productive during the day, surprisingly. That Type A drive within keeps me going. But I find myself getting more and more irritable as the week goes on. And I can only wonder what that is doing to my cardiovascular health.
In general, American society values performance, results and motivation. This means Type A people often achieve a great deal, but it also means they are sometimes the most difficult to treat, medically. They often believe themselves to be too busy to go to the doctor. They have too many responsibilities that they believe are too important for them to prioritize their health.
Unfortunately, sometimes our society equates rest with laziness - even though rest is necessary to maximize productivity. When a person does not get adequate rest, their memory is less sharp, they can be irritable, and work performance can decline. Sleep deprivation can make migraines and body aches worse, and it often leads to stomach upset or diarrhea. Even though some patients think they are being productive, our bodies know better. Chronic sleep deprivation is not a good thing.
It may not always be easy to take time to rest and recharge, even though we know we should. As I write this, my husband is away on a mission trip to the Philippines, and he is usually my helpmate who reminds me to go to bed. His absence, plus the extra responsibilities I have for the children while he is gone, kept me up past midnight several days last week. But, over the weekend I took my own advice, and forced myself to rest. Boy, did I feel better!
Now, my goal for this week is to get to bed a bit earlier. In fact, I think I will stop writing now and go to sleep!
Dr. Hurley is Medical Director of Population Health at Christus Trinity Clinic, and president-elect of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians.