Sleep is often one of the first things to go when people feel pressed for time. Many view sleep as a luxury and think that the benefits of limiting the hours they spend asleep outweigh the costs. People often overlook the potential long-term health consequences of insufficient sleep, and the impact that health problems can ultimately have on one's time and productivity.
Medical conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, develop over long periods of time and result from a number of factors, such as genetics, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise. Irregular sleep patterns have also been linked to these and other health problems and are considered an important risk factor. Most experts have concluded that getting enough high-quality sleep may be as important to health and well-being as nutrition and exercise.
Risk assessment of irregular sleep patterns
Medical conditions are slow to develop and depend on several factors. What we know is that sleeping fewer than about eight hours per night on a regular basis seems to increase the risk of developing a number of medical conditions. Following are the results of reducing sleep by just two or three hours per night:
- Obesity: Several studies have linked disrupted sleep and weight gain. People who sleep fewer than six hours per night on a regular basis are much more likely to have excess body weight, while people who sleep an average of eight hours per night have the lowest relative body fat, according to a study. Moreover, kids who are ‘short sleepers’ are much more likely to develop obesity later in childhood than those who sleep the recommended amount.
- Diabetes: Studies have shown that people who reported sleeping fewer than five hours per night had an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Thankfully, studies have also indicated that improved sleep can positively influence blood sugar control and reduce the effects of type 2 diabetes.
- Cardiovascular disease and hypertension: A recent study found that even a slight reduction in sleep was associated with a risk of coronary artery calcification, a predictor of future myocardial infarction (heart attack) and death due to heart disease. There is also growing evidence of a connection between sleep loss caused by obstructive sleep apnoea and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, and irregular heartbeat.
- Immune function: Interactions between sleep and the immune system have been well documented. Sleep deprivation increases the levels of many inflammatory mediators, and infections in turn affect the amount and patterns of sleep.
Not surprisingly, these potential adverse health effects can add up to increased health care costs and decreased productivity. More importantly, irregular sleep patterns
can ultimately affect life expectancy and day-to-day well-being. Separate studies suggest that sleeping five or fewer hours per night may increase mortality risk by as much as 15 percent.
Sleep well and stay healthy
While sleeping well is no guarantee of good health, it does help to maintain many vital functions. One of the most important of these functions may be to provide cells and tissues with the opportunity to recover from the wear and tear of daily life. Major restorative functions in the body such as tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis occur almost exclusively during sleep.
Sleep experts say there is ample evidence that shows that when people get the sleep they need, they will not only feel better, but will also increase their odds of living healthier, more productive lives.