If you want to decrease your chance of serious long-term health issues, you may want to consider hitting the hay earlier each night. Study after study shows that sleeping less than six hours a night may have serious consequences on your long-term health, putting you at a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even early death.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society both recommend that adults ages 18 to 60 get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Here’s why:
In your daily life, lack of adequate sleep can affect your judgment, mood and ability to learn and retain information. It may also increase your risk of serious accidents and injury. But over time, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems.
Obesity and Diabetes
Studies show that people who sleep less than six hours per night are more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI). While many factors such as being too tired to exercise or choosing sugary foods to satisfy your body’s cravings are easy to explain, your body chemistry is also disrupted from lack of sleep.
When you’re asleep, your body releases hormones and chemicals that help control appetite and metabolism and also process glucose (blood sugar). When you don’t get enough sleep, these become unbalanced. The Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine outlines the effects of sleeping less than five hours per night:
- You are more prone to stress
- You can experience weight gain, which puts you at risk for diabetes
- You may feel more hungry than normal
- You may eat larger portions to feel full
Studies found that especially for women, sleeping too little or too much can lead to increased risk of coronary heart disease. Doctors recommend sleeping more than six hours but less than nine for the least risk.
Lack of sleep for those living with preexisting conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) or apnea may have higher blood pressure after just one night of inadequate sleep.
One study measured sleep patterns of 5,000 healthy, middle-aged adults with a normal body mass index, meaning their risk of stroke is low. The results showed that those who cut back on sleep to less than six hours have a 4.5 percent greater risk of having a stroke than those who sleep seven to eight hours per night.
The sleep deprived group experienced more inflammation and higher blood pressure and heart rate. This group reported feeling numbness or weakness down one side of their body, dizziness, loss of vision or sudden inability to express their thoughts verbally or in writing.
How Can You Get More Sleep?
So, how can you get more quality sleep? Physicians recommend changing your view of sleep from a luxury to a priority. The most healthful sleep occurs when you go to sleep at a similar time each night.
There are many trackers that can help you remember your sleep time, like Bedtime on the iPhone. The app asks you to fill out a series of questions and set up a bedtime alarm to alert you when it’s time to sleep, as well as a wake alarm. Even if you don’t choose to use an app, try these tips:
- Decide what time you need to be in bed in order to get more than seven hours of sleep
- Get into bed at least 30 minutes before your “sleep” time and power down electronics to allow your brain to relax
If you are one of the estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffering from some type of sleep disorder, don’t hesitate to bring it up with your physician. He or she can work with you to determine the cause of your lack of sleep and come up with solutions that will not only help you sleep better, but also decrease your risk of developing one of these chronic health conditions.