Part of the “Make Sleep a Priority” Series
(June 8, 2018) — What is it about sleep? So many people think they don’t get enough but don’t do what it takes to get more. Why?
One reason may be that many of the problems caused by inadequate sleep take years to show up. Many people respond to daytime sleepiness by drinking another coffee or caffeinated soda and think they are okay. Powering through sleepiness is often taken as a badge of honor for someone living a busy life.
Although some serious sleep problems can show up in the short term—like falling asleep at the wheel and having a car wreck—many serious sleep-related health problems don’t show up until later, and sleep deprivation may be only one of many causes. Research shows that inadequate sleep plays a role in major health problems such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
“If you care about your health, you simply must get enough good quality sleep,” said Dr. Anuj Chandra, medical director of the Advanced Center for Sleep Disorders in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Healthy sleep is at least as important as healthy nutrition.”
How does healthy sleep help you stay healthy?
1. Repairing Your Body
“Sleep isn’t just a luxury that helps you feel better,” said Dr. Chandra. “Your body performs vital day-to-day maintenance—repairing tissue, growing muscle, making protein synthesis, consolidating memory—almost exclusively while you sleep.”
Healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels, for example, is aided by sleep. Long-term sleep deficiency increases the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
2. Controlling Your Weight
Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity for children, teens, and adults. Studies have shown that babies who are short sleepers are more likely to develop obesity in childhood; teenagers’ chance of becoming obese increased for every hour or lost sleep; and adults who regularly sleep less than six hours a night were much more likely to have excess weight.
Sleep balances the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, the balance of those hormones is disturbed and you feel hungrier than when you are well rested.
3. Preventing Diabetes
“If you don’t get enough sleep, your blood sugar will be higher, which may increase your risk for diabetes,” said Dr. Chandra.
Sleep affects the way your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar. Studies show that sleeping fewer than five hours per night greatly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, but also that improving sleep can improve blood sugar control and reduce the effects of type 2 diabetes.
4. Guiding Children’s Growth and Development
Deep sleep is necessary for the body to produce a hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. Sleep is also related to puberty, making it important for children approaching puberty to have regular sleep patterns.
5. Keeping Healthy Brain Function
“Sleep literally helps your brain work properly,” said Dr. Chandra. “It’s not just a subjective thing, like feeling good. It’s measurable: Your brain works better when you have enough sleep.”
Getting enough sleep improves learning at all ages, for children in school or adults working on their golf swing. Being sleep deprived makes it harder to make decisions, solve problems, or control your emotions.
This article is part of “Make Sleep a Priority,” Dr. Anuj Chandra’s education program to encourage healthy sleep. For other articles, visit SleepForHealth.org. Or follow the Advanced Center for Sleep Disorders on Facebook or Twitter (@AdvancedSleep).