Losing Sleep? You May Be Losing Your Health, Too
Sleep is problematic for millions of Americans. At one time or another, say experts, at least half of all adults complain of problems falling asleep or staying asleep. And that’s a bigger problem than you might think, because getting enough sleep every night is crucial for good health.
Of course, most of us are familiar with the occasional restless night. Studies have repeatedly shown that most adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Children and teens need even more. Even one restless or sleepless night can affect how you feel the following day. A lack of sleep can affect a person’s ability to think clearly, learn, reason, and react. It can also affect things like hunger, making it more likely that you will crave—and overeat—high-calorie foods. And emerging evidence shows it can have a big impact on your immune system’s ability to function properly.
Sleep deprivation affects all of us, because sleep deprived people are more likely to be involved in accidents and make costly mistakes. Even worse, new research suggests that just one night of sleep deprivation may be linked to brain tissue losses. Subjects in a small study published in the journal Sleep showed signs similar to those seen in brain injury patients. Previous studies have shown that a week of inadequate sleep is related to alterations in up to 700 different genes, suggesting that sleep deprivation may have longterm consequences for health.
So what can you do to improve your sleep habits and ensure your brain and immune system are getting the full benefits of regular, adequate sleep? Experts recommend several practices: Don’t bring work, computers, cell phones, or even televisions into the bedroom. Keep your bedroom cool at night. Try to sleep in complete darkness. Avoid caffeine, food, and alcohol for several hours before bedtime. And give yourself enough time. You may think you only need five or six hours of sleep, but you’re probably fooling yourself.
Benedict C et al. Acute sleep deprivation increases serum levels of neuron-specific enolase (NSE) and S100 calcium binding protein B (S-100B) in healthy young men. SLEEP, December 2013
Vilma Aho, Hanna M. Ollila, Ville Rantanen, Erkki Kronholm, Ida Surakka, Wessel M. A. van Leeuwen, Maili Lehto, Sampsa Matikainen, Samuli Ripatti, Mikko Härmä, Mikael Sallinen, Veikko Salomaa, Matti Jauhiainen, Harri Alenius, Tiina Paunio, Tarja Porkka-Heiskanen. Partial Sleep Restriction Activates Immune Response-Related Gene Expression Pathways: Experimental and Epidemiological Studies in Humans. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (10): e77184 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077184