Sleeping Your Way to Better Health – Part 1
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.
So let’s look at the most serious diseases associated with poor sleep.
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%.