Sleepy Science: Sleep Deprivation and Health

Losing sleep makes you more likely to develop hypertension, diabetes, and more apt to have strokes. So why is it then that in the West we consider sleeping to be an indicator of weakness, and what can you do to cash in on some of that beauty sleep?

Sleep Deprivation and Health 1

The Science Behind Sleep

Despite advances in biology and human medicine, there is no one answer to the question of “Why do we sleep?” Some biologists think it is to store the memories we make throughout the day. Others point to its important role in regulating hormones. Says Dr. Alan Rechtshaffen, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, “It may be the biggest open question in biology.”

One factor that contributes to the fog around sleep has to do with the lack of long-term research in the field. Only over the past decade have researchers recognized healthy sleeping habits as a significant part of health. Some call it the “third pillar” of health, along with exercise and healthy eating habits. Sleep’s importance is evident through research studies. More than 15 long-term studies all report on the same apparent relationship– the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.

Sleep Deprivation and You

The health impacts of lack of sleep are evident in research, but what does this mean for you? After one night of sleep deprivation, you lose brain tissue, you’re more like to catch a cold, and you’re apt to eat more fatty foods. After a long-term run of sleep deprivation, your risk of strokes goes up fourfold, your risk of heart disease shoots up, and your risk of obesity jumps.

Social factors partially cause these troubling statistics. Workplace stress and family tensions tend to follow workers home. The sleep deprivation caused by external factors then leads to negative work performance. This negative feedback loop makes for workplace accidents, car accidents, and health crises becoming more and more common.

Tips for Catching Up on Sleep

Now that professors and doctors have researched the health effects of sleep, it is crucial that you get a healthy night’s sleep.

It is well known that the soft blue glow of your smartphone or your favorite television show can interfere with the production of melatonin, which regulates sleep. Doctors recommend turning off your screens around an hour before you go to bed to get the healthiest sleep possible. Anxiously staring at your clock, thinking about all the rest you are losing, is also something doctors warn against doing. Turning your clock so it can’t face you, or placing it somewhere like under your bed, is a simple solution. Not working on your laptop or watching TV in bed is also a safe bet to help you fall asleep sooner. Using your bed to only sleep in makes your body associate sleep with your bed, a positive way to help you fall asleep sooner! Lowering the overhead lights in your room and stopping nervous thoughts 2-3 hours before sleeping also enables you to get a better night’s sleep.

Sleep Deprivation and Health 2Although this seems counterproductive, eliminating naps also helps improve your quality of sleep. If you do need a brief catnap during the day, try taking it as early as possible and limiting it to 20 minutes. Taking short naps helps regulate your nightly sleep cycle. Consistently going to sleep and waking up at the same times is also good to help you control your sleep cycle.

Sleeping in a position that is comfortable (not on your stomach, as it twists your spine!) is also a good way to get healthy sleep. If you sleep on your side, consider lining up your nose with the center of your body. If you experience back pain, consider placing a pillow between your knees to ease discomfort.

Eating a small, healthy meal about an hour before you go to bed is also an easy way to get a good night’s sleep. Steering clear of caffeine, especially after noon, is also a popular way to sleep well. Avoiding alcohol and tobacco is also an excellent way to keep from waking up in the middle of the night. Stopping your water intake two hours before bed also helps avoid midnight trips to the bathroom.

Finally, know when to see your doctor for sleep issues. If you have problems completing everyday activities, sleep for more than seven hours a day and still feel tired, and have difficulty falling asleep, see your doctor. Do you have any sleep tips? Please share them, below!

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