Everyone has an occasional sleepless night, and this is not a problem for most people. Conversely, it is often true that less may mean more. Are you too busy to go to bed? Do you have trouble getting quality sleep once you do? Well, I for one may have to literally add getting more sleep to my “to-do-list” because it has been shown that having a good night’s sleep is one of the smartest health priorities that we can set for ourselves. It is not just drowsiness during the daytime that you risk when shortchanging yourself on your seven to eight hours. There are also many possible health consequences when you get too little or poor sleep that involve the cardiovascular, immune and endocrine and nervous systems.
In addition to letting “life” get in the way of a good night’s sleep, between 50-70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorder, also known as insomnia, or sleep apnea that affects their daily functioning and intrudes on their health. Here are some reasons why you should schedule sleep like any other daily activity:
1. According to a recent study by the Institute of Medicine Report, people who sleep under seven hours a night, the fewer zzzz’s they get, the more obese they tend to be. This may relate to the discovery that with insufficient sleep, hunger hormones may be triggered and become out of synch. Leptin, which suppresses our appetite, is lowered; while ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, becomes heightened.
2. We tend to make bad food choices. A study published in 2009 Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people who had obstructive sleep apnea, or other severely disordered breathing while asleep, ate a diet higher in cholesterol, total fat, cholesterol and total saturated fat. Women were affected more than men.
3. Impaired glucose tolerance, one of the precursors to diabetes, is more likely. In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, individuals getting five or fewer hours of sleep each night were 2.5 times more likely to be diabetic, while those with six hours or fewer were 1.7 times more likely.
4. Heart attacks, as well as strokes, were 45 percent more likely in women who slept for five or fewer hours per night than those women who got more sleep. This is a lofty risk.
5. If one has an obstructive sleep apnea their blood pressure may increase. Sleep apnea has been associated with chronically elevated daytime blood pressure, and the more severe the disorder, the more significant the hypertension. Obesity plays a major role in both disorders, so losing weight will ease any associated health risks.
6. Nearly 20 percent of serious car accidents and injuries involve a sleepy driver. This does not even consider those who may be under the influence of alcohol. Auto accidents rise due to lack of sleep on the part of the driver because of decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals or remember new information.
7. Many people who have trouble getting to sleep, who may wake up at night, or who are drowsy during the day could be 4-5 times more likely to sustain a fall. Poor sleep causes a person’s balance to be off, especially in the senior population. Being drowsy also lowers our effectiveness and job performance and causes us to be more moody and irritable.
8. Those who try to function on little sleep may be more prone to depression. Individuals will have greater mental stress, despair, and oftentimes a greater propensity for alcohol use or other substance abuse.
9. Adolescents suffer as well. A survey of high school and middle school students reported more symptoms of depression and lower self-esteem. Younger adults may suffer more behavior issues than older adults. Research from an April issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that those children that were beleaguered by insomnia, short duration of sleeping, or breathing disorders with obesity, are far more likely to have behavioral issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This then is a domino effect which may lead to poor grades, an increase in high school dropouts and even suicide if the depression is not treated.
10. Those of you who get five hours or less hours of sleep per night have an approximate 15 percent greater risk of dying – regardless of the cause – according to three large population-based studies.
To begin a new path towards healthier sleep and a healthier lifestyle, begin by assessing your own individual sleep needs and habits. Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends; create a conductive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool; sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows; avoid caffeine and alcohol products close to bedtime, and if you are a smoker, it is time to get some help to quit! And for those of you who use the bedroom for watching TV, working on a computer or reading, it is best to keep these “sleep stealers” out of the bedroom.
Most importantly, make sleep a priority! I have to admit I’m one who tends to skip sleep a lot during the week, trading quiet time at night for long work hours so I have a lot of changes to make. What about you? Get some zzzz’s – you will be a lot healthier!
Paula Camposano Robinson, RN, is co-founder and owner of Sanitasole Senior Health Services. This is an information-only column and is not intended to replace medical advice from a physician. Email meat firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sanitasole.net for more information. Phone: 239.394.9931.