The Imperative of Sleep 7


Why is Sleep Important?

Health Impacts of Sleep DeprivationExperts believe that sleep deprivation played a role in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear meltdowns and the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447, which killed all 228 people aboard.

But accident-related health impacts of sleepless can also be found much closer to home. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes directly result from driver fatigue each year.

But it’s not just accidents. Over time, your immune, respiratory, digestive and cardiovascular systems can all be impaired by lack of sleep. Multiple medical studies show that sleeplessness results in:

  • Premature lines and aging of skin.
  • Memory loss and increased risk of Alzheimers.
  • Loss of sex drive.
  • A tripled risk of catching a cold due to 
 impaired immunity.
  • Junk food cravings and weight gain (due to imbalances of leptin and ghrelin the hormones that make us feel full or hungry).
  • A 62 percent higher risk of breast cancer.
  • A 48 percent higher risk of heart disease.
  • A five-fold higher risk of diabetes.
  • A five times higher risk of developing depression.

Bottom line: If you’re not getting at least seven hours of sleep each night, you’re damaging your health. So please, get your ZZZs.

Why is sleep important to you? An estimated 35 percent of U.S. adults report less than seven hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period.

Sleepiness resulting from insufficient sleep, irregular sleep schedules or poor quality sleep is a cause of motor vehicle crashes, occupational errors with hazardous outcomes and difficulty performing daily tasks.

Sleep and wakefulness disorders affect an estimated 15 to 20 percent of U.S. adults who are more likely to suffer from chronic disorders including depression, substance abuse, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, stroke and all-cause mortality. Resilience to stress, emotional regulation and inter-personal relationships are impaired by sleep deficiency.

Recent findings suggest that investing in sleep contributes to maintaining brain health, and ultimately, to protecting the cognitive functions necessary for aging-in-place. Recognizing and addressing sleep health issues presents opportunities for enhancing public health and improving the well-being of all people.

The societal and health consequences of insufficient sleep were explored in a 2014 TV documentary entitled Sleepless in America produced by the National Geographic Channel in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The 90-minute video, which can be seen on YouTube, explains how research is changing our perception of sleep, sleepiness and its importance to health.

The idea of “sleep” as a period when the brain simply shuts down has been replaced by an increasingly sophisticated understanding of how the rhythm of sleep and wakefulness is necessary for the biological function of every organ. Not only does this daily “circadian” rhythm play an important role in learning and the filtering of memories in the brain, but it also serves to regulate the energy level of most all cells. Shortages of cellular energy eventually wear down natural defenses through oxidative stress and abnormalities in protein processing increasing the risk of disease. A NIH-funded study helped show that during sleep, a byproduct known as amyloid beta is cleared from the brain at a faster rate than when a person is awake. Amyloid beta has been connected to Alzheimer’s disease.

What all of this adds up to is the idea that sleep should be considered just as important as eating right and getting enough exercise.

Adults should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep, while teens need up to nine hours a night. But getting good sleep goes beyond being in bed for a set number of hours. The quality and timing of sleep are two other important factors for getting proper rest each night. People who work the night shift may experience problems getting quality sleep.

Here are five tips that everyone can use to help improve the quality of their sleep:

  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
  • Put away/turn off all electronic devices while preparing for bedtime.
  • Stick to a regular bedtime and wake time every day, even on weekends.
  • Stop drinking caffeine by the early afternoon and avoid large late-night meals.
  • Skip the late-afternoon nap, as it can make it harder to sleep at bedtime.

Michael Twery PhD is director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Reprint courtesy of NIH. Find the results of sleep-related research projects on the NIH Sleepless in America webpage.