The unfortunate truth in modern times is that we just don’t get enough sleep
. We live in countries where people cut back on sleep for many reasons: work, fun, education or even just to spend a few more hours on their phone while valuable life-saving minutes of sleep are lost. And while we may get so much more done with our social lives and productivity there are some very real, scientifically proven long – and short-term dangers and diseases.
On the short-term side, getting little sleep can seriously alter your mood, judgement, ability to retain information and your ability to learn.
On the long-term side, serious issues such as High Blood Pressure, Diabetes Mellitus, Obesity, Chronic Inflammatory conditions – and even early death have been seen.
As you can imagine, doing studies on the dangers of poor sleep are fairly easy studies to accomplish and prove. Everybody sleeps! It is a matter of tracking the diseases that occur in those who have short and long histories of poor sleep and seeing their progression. But first, we need to establish just how long is “enough” sleep. The National Sleep Foundation of America recommends very strongly that 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night is the target range for adults and children. When they looked at persons getting less than 7 hours of sleep, they saw the statistically significant increases of many of the chronic and often deadly diseases I mentioned above.
As a doctor with many sleep-deprived patients, I wanted to know more about their methods that makes them so sure of their assertions. I looked into their methods and found even more striking evidence and proof that the attitude of “I don’t have enough time to sleep” can be a destructive personal process.
There are 3 types of studies that researchers use to break down the effects of poor sleep. While each of these methods is worthy of a blog, I will summarize them for their elegance as a believable study.
In the first type of study, healthy volunteers are subjected to sleep deprivation of various periods of time (frequently accomplished by using Medical Students and Military volunteers). The participants are kept awake and various health parameters are tracked. The clear and proven results: Increased Stress, Increased Blood Pressure, loss of control of Blood Glucose (Diabetic tendencies) and increased Total Body Inflammation.
The second type of research study is called a cross-sectional epidemiological study. This looks at the correlation between certain habitual sleep problems and the existence of diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes or obesity. These studies show a link between long chronic sleep deprivation, but we also have to consider that these diseases (and some of their medications) can also cause sleeping issues. So to see which is the cause and which is the effect we look at a third type of study.
The most convincing evidence comes from tracking the sleeping habits and disease patterns of people who are initially healthy, yet develop sleep-influenced diseases as we follow them over a long time period. With these studies we can actually see the improvement in management of these chronic diseases with improved sleep and rest.
Most people don’t get enough sleep. We are a society that burns the candle at both ends, a nation where people stay up all night to study, work, or have fun. However, going without adequate sleep carries with it both short- and long-term consequences.
In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including Obesity, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and even early mortality.
So let’s look at the most serious diseases associated with poor sleep.
Obesity is on the rise in nearly every developed country in the world. With obesity can also come:
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Hormone imbalances in men and women
- Cancer (obesity is one of the biggest influencers for getting Breast Cancer)
During proper sleep the body secretes hormones that control our energy, our metabolism and the way we use our glucose/blood sugar. With poor sleep the body produces more insulin after meals and this causes us to retain more fat and to gain weight. It is well known that people who do not sleep well have great difficulty in losing weight even when they are on proper diets and exercise programs. If you want to lose weight you must sleep.
Immune Function is vital to our ability to fight infections and recover quickly from colds and flu’s and other body infections. When the immune system is trying to fight off a cold it actually secretes substances that cause fatigue. Inactivity and sleep when a person is infected actually improves the outcome and the recovery time. It has been proven that subjects who can reach more levels of deep sleep have a better chance of recovery and survival. This goes for mild infections and flu’s as well as serious life-threatening infections.
Life Expectancy has been clearly proven to be influenced by lack of proper and sufficient sleep. The most striking evidence comes from 3 major cross-sectional studies in America. These revealed that less than 5 hours of sleep per night resulted in increased death/mortality by 15%.
I encourage my patients to regard sleep in the same way they would regard taking their medicine for hypertension or any other disease that requires daily management. I also discourage the patients from using potentially dangerous prescription sleep medication until they have tried more healthy and natural products and behaviors to obtain good, restful sleep. Prescription sleeping pills have a series of side-effects and issues that can be potentially as dangerous as sleep deprivation. When you see your doctor about sleep, the discussion should be about how you can get the most natural restful sleep without a prescription medicine. In my practice I can accomplish this in over 90% of my patients.
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