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Lack of sleep may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, and sleep deprivation may have a negative impact on cholesterol levels
Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions—such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression—which threaten our nation’s health. Aside from these, unsatisfactory sleep is also responsible for motor vehicle and machinery-related crashes, causing substantial injury and disability each year.
However, new methods for assessing and treating sleep disorders bring hope to the millions suffering from insufficient sleep. Getting adequate sleep is not a luxury—it is a necessity—and should be thought of as a “vital sign” of good health.
Sleep and chronic disease
Studies show that insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk for the development of Type 2 diabetes. Specifically, sleep duration and quality have emerged as predictors of levels of Hemoglobin A1c, an important marker of blood sugar control. Recent research suggests that optimizing sleep duration and quality may be important means of improving blood sugar control in people with Type 2 diabetes.
- Cardiovascular Disease
People with sleep apnea have been found to be at increased risk for a number of cardiovascular diseases. Notably, hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease and irregular heartbeats are more common among those with disordered sleep than their peers without sleep abnormalities. Likewise, sleep apnea and hardening of the arteries appear to share some common physiological characteristics, further suggesting that sleep apnea may be an important predictor of cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol is a kind of fat made by the liver and found in the blood, which is essential to the body as cells and organs need it. There are two types of cholesterol: “good” high-density lipoproteins or HDL, and “bad” or low-density lipoproteins. A study has found that just a week of restless nights can damage the heart due to a rise in “bad” cholesterol. Bad cholesterol can damage the walls of the arteries, causing them to become hardened, scarred and plaques form.
Short sleep duration can result in metabolic changes that may be linked to obesity. Epidemiologic studies revealed an association between short sleep duration and excess body weight. This association has been reported in all age groups—but has been particularly pronounced in children. It is believed that sleep in childhood and adolescence is particularly important for brain development and that insufficient sleep in youngsters may adversely affect the function of a region of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite and the expenditure of energy.
There is a complex relationship between sleep and depression. While sleep disturbance has long been held to be an important symptom of depression, recent research has indicated that depressive symptoms may decrease once sleep apnea has been effectively treated and sufficient sleep restored.
- Adopt good sleep habits
Small adjustments to your daily routine and sleeping area can go a long way toward ensuring you uninterrupted and restful sleep—and thereby better health.
Start with optimizing your light exposure during the day. Once the sun sets, minimize artificial light exposure to assist your body in secreting melatonin, which helps you feel sleepy. It can be helpful to sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. If you need navigation light, install a low-wattage yellow, orange, or red light bulb.
Two of the biggest sleep saboteurs are caffeine and alcohol, both of which also increase anxiety. Caffeine’s effects can last four to seven hours. Tea and chocolate also contain caffeine. Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but it makes sleep more fragmented and less restorative.
Nicotine in all its forms is also a stimulant, so lighting up too close to bedtime can worsen insomnia.
Develop a relaxing pre-sleep routine. Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day helps keep your sleep on track, but having a consistent pre-sleep routine or “sleep ritual” is also important. Avoid watching TV or using electronics in the evening, at least an hour or so before going to bed.
If you are even slightly sleep deprived, we encourage you to implement some of these tips tonight, as high-quality sleep is one of the most important factors in your health and quality of life. As for how much sleep you need for optimal health, a panel of experts reviewed more than 300 studies to determine the ideal amount of sleep, and found that, as a general rule, most adults need right around eight hours per night.