Sleep Problems

One cannot underestimate the importance of good sleep for health.  Sleep is so important that its effects can show up quickly when we don’t get enough.  In fact, it has been shown that getting too little sleep for just one night can have the following effects:

  • Increase stress
  • Mood disturbances
  • Impaired ability to concentrate

Some people might think that it’s a fair trade-off to skimp on sleep now and then, saying that a day or two of tiredness and crankiness is worth the extra time they earned. But while returning to a regular sleeping pattern can restore the negative short-term effects of one night of poor sleep, the long-term consequences of regular sleep deprivation that arise under the surface are much more dangerous.

Long-term effects of poor sleep include:

  • Increased risk for diabetes

Too much sleep can be as bad for you as too little.  People who regularly get less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours of sleep each night are both at higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

  • Increased risk for breast cancer
A survey of breast-cancer patients found a strong association between shorter sleep patterns and recurrence of tumors.  This suggests that women who sleep less than 6 hours a night have an increased risk of more aggressive cancer.
  • Obesity
The rising rate of obesity seems to parallel American’s tendency to sleep less than ever before, prompting a Harvard study to investigate. The results were surprising.  Brain scans of sleepy adults showed that they were less likely to distinguish between high-calorie and low-calorie foods; the part of the brain that inhibits and controls emotions and behavior was not active. This can lead to overeating and making poor food choices in general, which contributes to obesity. Other studies have found that lack of sleep may affect hormones that tell you when you are full—this causes you to overeat when you’re sleepy.
  • High blood pressure

There is a strong link between lack of sleep and hypertension and a less significant correlation between too much sleep and hypertension.

  • Depression

Studies indicate that insomniacs and others who don’t get adequate sleep each night are 10 times more likely to develop major depression.

  • Altered immune function

According to the Mayo Clinic, people who don’t sleep enough each night get less protection from flu vaccines and are more susceptible to the common cold.

When we sleep, our body performs the following functions:

  • Healing damaged cells
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Recovering from the day’s activities
  • Recharging the heart and cardiovascular system

So how much sleep is enough?

According to the Mayo Clinic here is the recommended amount of sleep:

Newborns:  14-17 hours per day 

12 months:  About 10 hours at night, plus 4 hours of naps

2 years:  About 11-12 hours at night, plus a 1-2 hour afternoon nap

3-5 years:  10-13 hours

6-13 years:  9-11 hours

14-17 years:  8-10 hours

Adults:  7-9 hours

In addition to age, other factors can affect how many hours of sleep you need. For example:

  • Changes in the body during early pregnancy can increase the need for sleep.
  • Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults. As you get older, however, your sleeping patterns might change. Older adults tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter time spans than do younger adults.
  • Previous sleep deprivation.  If you're sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.
  • Sleep quality.  If your sleep is frequently interrupted, you're not getting quality sleep. The quality of your sleep is just as important as the quantity.

Some people claim to feel rested on just a few hours of sleep a night, but their performance is likely affected. Research shows that people who sleep so little over many nights don't perform as well on complex mental tasks as do people who get closer to seven hours of sleep a night.