Sleep More, Live Longer
BY: Dorothy Foltz-Gray
You and your snooze button both know you need more sleep. But fatigue and crankiness aren’t the only downsides to not getting enough z’s. A new study conducted at Harvard’s Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston provides further evidence that skimping on sleep increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
“People who sleep seven to eight hours a night had the lowest risk of the conditions,” says study leader Orfeu M. Buxton, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience and is an instructor in the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Somewhere between five and six hours of sleep a night was the clear breaking point where the results were largely bad,” he says.
Why You Need Enough Sleep
When you don’t get enough sleep, your body responds differently from when it’s well rested:
1. Too little sleep puts stress on your body, causing it to churn out more fight-or-flight hormones, like cortisol, which increases your heart rate and blood pressure -- putting you at greater risk for heart disease.
2. Inadequate sleep also appears to make your body less sensitive to insulin, raising your risk for diabetes.
3. If you don’t get enough sleep, levels of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin shift, making you hungrier and driving you to eat. “The body appears to mistake chronic tiredness for hunger,” says Buxton. “One response is that you’re seeking food or snacks that you really don’t need.” And as you gain weight, risk for heart disease, diabetes and other diseases rise: “The constellation [of health hazards] goes together,” says Buxton.
Surprisingly, researchers also found that too much sleep -- more than nine hours -- is just as dangerous as too little. One reason may be that people who sleep excessively tend to have conditions that unsettle sleep, like sleep apnea (a disorder involving interrupted breathing) or depression. So they sleep longer but not restfully.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
To figure out if you’re getting enough sleep, try this easy test: “If you can wake without an alarm and feel good, you’re getting the right amount of sleep,” says Buxton.
Still, if shut-eye doesn’t come easily, Dr. Meeta Singh, a senior staff member at the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders Center in Detroit, suggests these tips to get the seven to nine hours of sleep you need every night:
- Shift into sleep mode an hour before bed Close the laptop, and get quiet. Meditate. Read a book. Listen to music.
- Keep regular hours Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. A regular schedule helps set your body clock, making it easier to fall asleep at night.
- Identify insomnia culprits A recent study showed that one-third of people with sleep problems suffered from heartburn and didn’t even know it. If heartburn is keeping you up at night, avoid eating close to bedtime, and raise the head of your bed. Gravity will help keep acid reflux from backing up into your esophagus.
- Make like a bat Your bedroom should be quiet, cool and dark -- like a bat would appreciate. Close the blinds, get a white-noise machine or a fan, and lower your thermostat to a cool 65 to 69 degrees.
Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/diane39
Dorothy Foltz-Gray, a contributing writer to Live Right Live Well, and has been a freelance health writer and editor for 17 years. She is the author of Make Pain Disappear and Alternative Treatments for Arthritis and a co-author of Food Cures.