Chart Your Health Path Now.
A New Year is coming, and all the usual resolutions about health are being made: Eating right, exercising, cutting out unhealthy habits. Still, how many of us are adding sleep health to the list?
If not, you should. Sleep problems have been shown to have effects on a person’s health and well-being. Not only does a lack of sleep lead to a worse mood and daytime sleepiness, but it can have lasting effects on our immune system, circulation, metabolism, and more.
Which just means that sleep needs to be a central component in any healthy lifestyle. But just how does a lack of sleep hurt us?
The Science of Sleep Health: The Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation Report
In 2006, The National Academy of Sciences published an extensive report entitled “Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem.” The report, written for doctors and other researchers, spends an entire chapter outlining the various health problems that appear to be strongly linked to a lack of quality sleep less than 7 hours a night.
- Obesity in adults and children
- Diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance
- Cardiovascular disease and hypertension
- Anxiety symptoms
- Depressed mood
- Alcohol use
Many of the studies cited by the authors of this report show that these health problems aren’t just linked, but that their severity depends on how great the lack of sleep was. For example, the fewer amount of sleep subjects, the more serious were their problems with obesity, heart disease, etc.
The authors conclude that “After decades of research, the case can be confidently made that sleep loss and sleep disorders have profound and widespread effects on human health.”
Sleep and Obesity
One of the more surprising findings is the link between insufficient sleep and weight gain.
For example, one study found that people who slept fewer than six hours per night on a regular basis are much more likely to have excess body weight, while people who slept eight hours per night or more have much lower body fat.
This makes sense, as sleep helps us restore the balance of certain hormones that help control appetite and metabolism. For example, less sleep leads to the body overproducing insulin, which helps turn sugar into fat and can be a risk factor for diabetes. Poor sleep also leads to an overproduction of cortisol, a stress hormone that, in too large amounts, can have an adverse effect on digestion.
Sleep and Heart Disease
Over 15 separate medical studies have shown that people who get less sleep are at an increased risk of coronary heart disease—a 48% greater risk, in fact. They are also at a 15% greater risk of suffering from a stroke. Reduced sleep is also associated with hardening of the arteries artery calcification, thought to be a precursor to heart disease, as well as hypertension and irregular heartbeat.
Sleep and the Immune System
Though the ties between sleep and the immune system are complex, they are fairly well understood now. Researchers at UCLA, for example, found that sleep deprivation can increase inflammation, which over time can lead to tissue damage. A lack of sleep also decreases our body’s ability to fight infection; people who sleep less than seven hours a night are three times more likely to come down with the common cold vaccines.
So, if you are wondering how to boost the immune system during cold and flu season, getting a good night’s sleep should be your starting point!
Are You Constantly Tossing and Turning Through the Night? You’re Probably Due for a New Mattress
Sleep and Brain Health
The brain is an organ too, and the effects of sleep deprivation are most noticeable here. We all know that a lack of sleep can make us tired and moody during the day and that we tend to be more distracted because of it. But scientific studies have also shown a clear link between sleeping less than seven hours a night and more permanent problems such as cognitive decline, memory loss, and possibly even Alzheimer's.
And for those of you who take pride in your creativity, you’ll find that lack of sleep is unhealthy here, too. A study published Progress in Brain Research found that creativity and innovation are degraded by lack of sleep and that the effects can last well after the person feels “awake” again.
What Does Your Sleep Health Look Like?
There are many important things that your body does while you sleep. It is a time of repair, regeneration, and growth.
That said, how do you know if you are getting enough sleep? There are averages that every person should shoot for, based on age. But there is a lot of variation as well. So how much is enough? And how can you tell?
There is no one sign. Even feeling tired could be due to a number of factors other than lack of quality sleep. But several signs, taken together, can all point to a lack of healthy sleep in your routine. Ask yourself these questions:
1. How You Look
- Have you noticed weight gain recently?
- Do your eyes look glassy?
- Does your skin look “off”— more pale than usual, more dry, more wrinkly, etc.?
- Do you have classic physical symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as red, puffy eyes, dark under-eye circles, or turned-down corners of the mouth?
2. How You Feel
- Are you more moody than usual?
- Do you feel tired during the day?
- Are you having trouble reading people’s moods?
- Do you find that you are less in the mood for sex?
3. How You Think
- Are you finding it more difficult to make decisions?
- Do you find it hard to focus?
- Are you having trouble remembering things?
- Do you sometimes fail to come up with the right word? Or understand what you are reading?
4. How You Perform
- Are you slower at work than usual?
- Do you need caffeine just to get you through the day?
- Are you having trouble meeting deadlines and expectations?
- Do you feel like you are less than your best when working out, playing sports, practicing an instrument, or working with others?
If you find yourself answering “yes” to more than a handful of these, you are not getting enough sleep! To start turning this around, we recommend you check out our article “How to Keep Your Body Healthy with Healthy Lifestyle Choices.”
Turn Your Sleep Routine Around With the Right System
If you’re looking for more energy, more nights filled with quality sleep, and more time spent doing the things you love, you need to find the problem that is standing in your way. If sleep is the culprit, you may be in need of a new mattress. Adding the right sleep system into your life opens the doors to feel more awake and more present in your day to day life.
Even better, download our FREE mattress buying guide to learn more about sleep and what you can do to improve your sleep health.