We investigate some of the ways that sleep can benefit you, and how lack of sleep can wreak havoc on your health.
By Michaela Morris
If getting healthier in 2019 headlines your New Year’s resolutions, you really should sleep on it. It may seem too passive to make a difference compared to jogging five miles or eating more fruits and vegetables, but getting enough sleep is essential. Consistent sleeping habits are an important investment in your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Regularly short-changing your sleep have have real consequences. “It does cause long term stress on the body,” said Starkville pulmonologist Dr. Harry Holliday, who also is board certified in sleep medicine. There are medical conditions and medications that can disturb the sleep cycle, but the shift toward a 24/7 culture has been eroding the amount of sleep that Americans get. Data collected by the Centers for disease control suggests that fewer than 35 percent of U.S. adults get seven hours of sleep a night. “Protect your sleep,” said Tupelo pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist Dr. Jaime Ungo. “It’s a treasure.”
Benefits of Getting Good Sleep
Sleep is far from unproductive. While you get your zzzz’s, the blood supply to muscles increases, tissues grow and repair themselves, according to the Sleep Foundation. The brain and the rest of the body refuel with energy to support daytime performance. During sleep, a number of critical hormones are active. Growth hormone is released, fueling growth and development.
“We know that 90 percent of growing is done when you sleep,” Ungo said.
Levels of cortisol drop at bed time and then increase over the night so you can be alert during the day, according to the Sleep Foundation. The hormones ghrelin and leptin, which influence feelings of hunger and fullness, are regulated during sleep.
“When we’re sleep deprived, we may feel the need to eat more,” according to the Sleep Foundation.
Shorting your sleep on a regular basis has significant consequences, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Insufficient sleep has been linked to weight gain and obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, impaired immune system, depression, heart disease and stroke.
“The scientific evidence is clear,” according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Sleeps is essential for optimal health.”
Sleep deprivation can have impact the ability to be alert and perform everyday tasks during the day, Holliday said.
“It’s almost the equivalent of driving drunk,” in cases of severe sleep deprivation, Holliday said.
These health consequences typically build overtime. Most people can work around an occasional short night, Holliday said. But weeks and months of missing sleep adds up.
“If you’re consistently having problems over a three month period, it’s considered a chronic condition,” Holliday said.
What constitutes a good night of sleep is different for everyone. For some, seven hours of sleep is enough while another person may need more. Experts agree that a good night of sleep for adults falls between 7-9 hours a night.
Harmful Effects of Lack of Sleep
Adults should get at least seven hours or more of sleep on a regular basis. Most of us aren’t getting that.
“A lot of people think they get more sleep than they actually do,” Holliday said.
The best way to get more sleep is to set consistent times to go to bed and wake up, Holliday said. Start with the time you go to bed and count backwards to get the sleep time you need. Good sleep hygiene is helpful for many people with sleep disruptions. Getting daily exercise can help for a good night’s sleep. Make your bedroom a quiet, cool, dark haven. Avoid bright lights at night and get some sunlight as early in the morning as possible to help reset your internal clock, Ungo said.
Avoid caffeine late in the day. Alcohol, cigarettes and heavy meals in the evening can also contribute to sleep problems.
Especially if you are having trouble going to sleep, consider putting your electronic devices to bed about 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime, Holliday said. The blue light from the screens big and small is stimulating to the brain. It can be helpful during the day, but it can be disruptive at night. Smart phones and tablets have an option for blue light filter or night shift mode to alter the screens to reduce the blue light.
“That is helpful,” Holliday said. “At least you’re moving in the right direction.”
Sometimes there are seasons in life, like caring for a newborn baby, that make it difficult to consistently get a good night’s sleep. But it’s important to not brush off signs that your sleep is lacking.
If problems getting to sleep, staying asleep and waking up refreshed last more than three months, it’s time to talk to your health care provider, Holliday said. Some sleep problems like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome may be more obvious to spouses in the form of loud, irregular snoring and extra movement.