“I’m too busy to sleep.” How often have you heard someone say that? Well, “too busy” could be costing you one night’s sleep each week. Losing only an hour of sleep per night may not seem like much, but cumulatively it’s an entire night’s worth in just one week or 52 nights each year!
Now everybody knows we need our beauty sleep, but amid hectic jobs, managing families, and trying to maintain social lives, shut-eye often falls by the wayside and even becomes an inconvenience. As it turns out, if you think you don’t get enough sleep, you’re probably seriously underestimating the severity of the issue. A new study from the Britain’s Royal Society for Public Health finds that people miss out on an entire night of sleep every week by getting only 6.8 hours each night on average. That’s not enough. “Perhaps the greatest awareness of the problem has been in the US, where it has been estimated that 50 to 70 million adult Americans have a chronic sleep disorder that contributes to poor health,” the study reports. “One in three adults is sleeping less than seven hours per night, an amount at which physiological and neurobehavioral deficits manifest and become progressively worse under chronic conditions.” Sleep deprivation can create a mass of other health problems that are harder to ignore than a little drowsiness. A lack of sleep can be the catalyst for developing many chronic diseases.
For starters, there’s Type II Diabetes. We all know that sleep is imperative to good health. It’s the body’s way of restoring itself, but could your lack of sleep be putting you at risk for developing Type IIDiabetes? According to studies, the answer is a resounding “YES!” Researchers have found that insufficient sleep influences the way the body processes glucose, the high-energy carbohydrate that cells use for fuel. One short-term sleep restriction study found that a group of healthy subjects who had their sleep cut back from 8 to 4 hours per night processed glucose more slowly than they did when they were permitted to sleep 12 hours. Numerous epidemiological studies also have revealed that adults who usually slept less than five hours per night have a greatly increased risk of having or developing diabetes. In addition, researchers have linked obstructive sleep apnea—a disorder in which breathing difficulties during sleep lead to frequent waking—with the development of impaired glucose control similar to that which occurs in diabetes.
Then there’s Hypertension and Cardiovascular disease. Added to upping your risk of developing Type II Diabetes, did you know that even minor periods of inadequate sleep can cause an elevation in blood pressure? Studies have found that a single night of inadequate sleep in people who have existing hypertension can cause elevated blood pressure throughout the following day. This effect may begin to explain the correlation between poor sleep and cardiovascular disease and stroke. For example, one study found that sleeping too little (less than six hours) or too much (more than nine hours) increased the risk of coronary heart disease in women.
Lack of sleep can also increase in your chances of becoming obese. You can’t “sleep your way thin,” but not getting adequate amounts of sleep can possibly make you gain weight. For example, studies have shown that people who habitually sleep less than six hours per night are much more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI) and that people who sleep eight hours have the lowest BMI. Sleep is now being seen as a potential risk factor for obesity along with the two most commonly identified risk factors: lack of exercise and overeating. Research into the mechanisms involved in regulating metabolism and appetite are beginning to explain what the connection between sleep and obesity might be. During sleep, our bodies secrete hormones that help to control appetite, energy metabolism, and glucose processing. Obtaining too little sleep upsets the balance of these and other hormones. For example, poor sleep leads to an increase in the production of cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone.” Poor sleep is also associated with increases in the secretion of insulin following a meal. (Insulin is a hormone that regulates glucose processing and promotes fat storage; higher levels of insulin are associated with weight gain and a risk factor for diabetes.) Insufficient sleep is also associated with lower levels of leptin, a hormone that alerts the brain that it has enough food, as well as higher levels of ghrelin, a biochemical that stimulates appetite. As a result, poor sleep may result in food cravings even after we have eaten an adequate number of calories. We may also be more likely to eat foods such as sweets that satisfy the craving for a quick energy boost. In addition, insufficient sleep may leave us too tired to burn off these extra calories with exercise. So lack of sleep isn’t a “lose,” it’s potentially a “gain,” and not in a good way!
Then there’s your mood. Not getting enough sleep will not only make you look like hell, it will make you feel like you’ve spent the night there. Given that a single sleepless night can cause people to be irritable and moody the following day, it’s conceivable that chronic insufficient sleep may lead to long-term mood disorders. Chronic sleep issues have been linked with depression, anxiety, and mental distress. In one study, subjects who slept four and a half hours per night reported feeling more stressed, sad, angry, and mentally exhausted. In another study, subjects who slept four hours per night showed declining levels of optimism and sociability. All of these self-reported symptoms improved dramatically when subjects returned to a normal sleep schedule.
Worst of all, lack of sleep can shorten your life! Would you give an hour a day to live longer? Well, getting a full 7-8 hrs of sleep each night may just do that for you! Considering the many potential adverse health effects of insufficient sleep, it is not surprising that poor sleep is associated with lower life expectancy. Data from three large studies reveal that sleeping five hours or less per night increased mortality risk from all causes by roughly 15 percent!
While an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder, most people do not mention their sleeping problems to their doctors and most doctors do not ask about them. This widespread lack of awareness of the impact of sleep problems can have serious and costly public health consequences. So, if you’re having problems sleeping, and you’ve done all the things suggested to improve sleep (lowering the temperature of your bedroom, extinguishing all light sources, turning off your electronics at least an hour before bed, no caffeine past noon, etc) and you’re still having problems getting and staying asleep, maybe a chat with your doctor will help.
So for now, turn off the TV, put down your iPad, and for Pete’s (and your) sake go to bed!