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Rest Easy The Effect of Sleep on Health

Posted October 28, 2011 in Lifestyle, Lifestyle Management

You don’t smoke or drink, you eat healthy, and exercise regularly, so you can get away with only 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, right? WRONG! For people to function optimally, they require 6-8 hours of sleep a night, no exceptions. Although why we sleep and the full role it plays is still a matter of intense research, it serves several critical physiological and psychological functions that we know of. Sleep not only allows us to recover our energy stores, but also affects cellular repair and wound healing, regulates hormonal and immune functioning, and consolidates memories to name a few. Sleep is absolutely essential to the development of infants, which is why they sleep 12-14 hours a day. We should consider the need to sleep in the same category as the need to eat, drink, and breathe.

Potential Health Risks of Sleep Deprivation

Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to an overwhelming number of potential health issues. When you are feeling “worn down” from lack of sleep, your body is more vulnerable to infection. Being sleep deprived lowers your immune function, which can make you more susceptible to cold and flu, and to a host of more serious illnesses. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can even impact the effectiveness of vaccines, because the suppressed immune system is slower to develop antibodies to fight off the disease.

Lack of sleep causes an inflammatory response in the blood vessels and arteries, which can compromise your cardiovascular system. The same thing occurs in hypertension. If sleep deprivation persists, chronic inflammation can lead to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Sleep also reduces stress, another risk factor for heart disease, and it may also affect cholesterol levels.

Chronic sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance, which increases risk of diabetes. Studies in sleep deprivation showed significantly impaired glucose tolerance in otherwise young, healthy adult males. People in their 20s and 30s who slept less than 6.5 hours a night had insulin sensitivity of an average person over 60 years old!

Sleep deprivation can significantly affect mental functioning. One study found that chronically sleep deprived people were at as high a risk driving as someone who was driving drunk. Judgment, attention, memory, and hand-eye coordination are all significantly impaired.

A major link is being shown between sleep deprivation and obesity. One study found that sleep deprivation was a bigger risk factor for childhood obesity than any other factor. Another study found that sleeping 5 hours a night or less was associated with a 73% greater likeliness to become obese than sleeping 7-9 hours. Research is still trying to understand the link, but one explanation is that sleep deprivation lowers production of the hormone leptin, which helps to reduce hunger.

One study found that people who slept less than 7 hours a night or more than 8 hours a night had an increased risk of death. For women, it was a 21% increase for short-sleepers, and a 17% increase for long sleepers. For men, it was a 26% increase for short-sleepers, and a 24% increase for long sleepers.

Here are some more reasons to get a good night of sleep:

  • Sufficient sleep helps to reduce risk of anxiety and depression.
  • Sleep serves a function of memory consolidation, and people seem to strengthen emotional components of memory, which can lead to increased creativity.
  • Sufficient sleep has been shown to significantly improve aspects of athletic performance, including increased stamina, faster sprint times, and less fatigue.
  • Sleep deprived college students have poorer grades than those getting enough sleep.
  • Children aged 10-16 with sleep breathing disorders such as sleep apnea have impaired attention and learning skills. While adults tend to slow down when deprived, children tend to become hyperactive, and can exhibit ADHD-like symptoms.
  • In one study, well rested dieters lost 56% of their weight loss in fat, compared to their sleep deprived counterparts, who lost more muscle mass than fat.

Rest Easy

The good news is, except for in extreme cases, where damage is extensive, most sleep deprivation symptoms can be alleviated by restoring normal sleep habits for only a few nights. In fact, in the diabetes study I mentioned earlier, all of the men returned to normal glucose tolerance after only a few good nights of sleep.

10 Quick Tips to Improve Sleep:

  • Reduce noise, light and activity in your bedroom
  • Take the tv, radio, and other electronics out of your bedroom
  • Keep temperature cool
  • Exercise during the day, but preferably not within a few hours of bedtime
  • Try to stick to a bedtime routine, going to bed and waking up at the same time if possible
  • Try to cut out liquids a few hours before bed, to keep from getting up to use the bathroom
  • Reduce caffeine from coffee, tea, soda and chocolate
  • Don’t drink alcohol before bed. It may help you fall asleep, but sleep quality will be impaired
  • Quit smoking, or at least cut down before bed. Nicotine can keep you up
  • Try to fight the urge to nap. It will disrupt your natural sleep patterns

In most cases, difficulty sleeping can be corrected by a few simple changes to lifestyle and environment. Rejuvalife believes that sleep is an integral part of an anti-aging lifestyle and overall health, and we offer comprehensive lifestyle management programs to help. You will be given a sleep diary, to keep track of your sleeping habits, when you slept well and poorly, and what factors may have affected your sleep quality. We will look at possible contributing factors such as stress, diet and nutrition, fitness, lifestyle and environmental factors, as well as potential hormonal imbalance, and design a personalized plan to promote optimal sleep and health.

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