Most people have operated without a sufficient amount of shut-eye. Missing out on sleep is never a good thing; however, persistent lack of sleep interrupts the body’s restorative process, throwing out of whack your circadian rhythm and affecting neurocognitive, psychiatric, inflammatory, cardiovascular, metabolic and immune systems of the body. Chronic lack of sleep increases the risk for serious chronic health conditions that can lead to an early death.
According to the American Academy for Sleep Medicine, sleeping less than seven hours per night on a regular basis is associated with weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression, and increased risk of death. It is also associated with compromised immune function, increased pain, impaired performance, increased errors, and greater risk of accidents.
“Lack of sleep due to sleeping too little, untreated sleep disorders, or another cause is associated with poor health, such as future cognitive impairment (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease), heart disease, diabetes, etc.,” said Brendan Lucey, M.D., a sleep expert and assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine. “In one sense, lack of sleep is killing us. Motor vehicle accidents due to lack of sleep are a serious and potentially fatal public health problem.”
Dr. Brendan said chronic sleep deprivation is when someone only gets five to six hours of sleep per night.
“This is more insidious because individuals may not recognize the problems with attention, reaction time, and other performance measures, as well as poor health outcomes, chronic sleep restriction/deprivation may cause,” Brendan said. “Chronic sleep deprivation could continue potentially for years. Complete sleep deprivation, on the other hand, occurs for a short period of time and is more obviously debilitating.”
A panel of sleep experts spoke to journalists at the annual conference of the Association for Health Journalists held in Phoenix, Arizona two weeks ago.
Sairam Parthasarathy, M.D., director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at Banner University Medical Center in Tucson, said sleep is an active process
“Each cell of your body is keeping time, and diseases or things you do or don’t do interfere with that rhythm,” Parthasarathy said. “You are recharging your brain in your sleep and ... you are not only recharging brain, you are recharging every cell in your body.”
He said people with persistent insomnia are more likely to die of cardiovascular events.
“Lack of sleep is conferring a great chance for developing inflammation and, as you know, inflammation is the basis for developing heart disease,” Parthasarathy said. “Inflammation also leads to developing cancer.”
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends at least seven hours of sleep per night for adults, eight to 10 hours of sleep per night for teenagers, nine to 12 hours per night for children ages 6-12. Within a 24-hour cycle, infants from four to 12 months should be sleeping 12 to 16 hours, one to two years old should sleep 11 to 14 hours, and children three to five years old should sleep 10 to 13 hours to promote optimal health.
The academy does not include a recommendation for infants under four months of age due to the varied and irregular sleep patterns of newborns and lack of sufficient evidence on health outcomes for infants in that age group.
The main reason people are not getting that much-needed sleep should not be a surprise in today’s society.
“Electronics is the No. 1,”said Brynn Dredla, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist for the Mayo Clinic out of Jacksonville, Florida. She said one in three persons is not getting enough sleep at night.
“We are now being exposed to light more so than ever,” Dredla said. “Back in the 1800s, our light source was mainly from oil lamps – more natural light. When the sun went down, we went down. However, now we have artificial light; we have more lumens in our light from day-to-day.”
Maintaining a consistent sleep-wake schedule, eating a healthy diet, exercising and morning-light exposure all factor in to help sleep.
Seek a doctor evaluation if you suspect a sleep disorder. According to the Saint Louis University Sleep Disorders Center, regular difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep or daytime drowsiness may point to a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, depression or diabetes, so it is important to discuss sleep problems with your doctor.
Joseph Espiritu, M.D., medical director for the SLUCare Sleep Disorders Center and professor of Internal Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, said other factors that affect getting a good night’s sleep include jet lag; late bedtimes; night or evening shift work; and some blood pressure and antidepressant medications. Environmental factors include noise, excessively cold or hot bedroom temperatures, light from lamps or electronics, snoring co-sleepers, and having children or pets in the bed. Medical issues that cause difficulty sleeping include uncontrolled asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic pain, psychiatric disorders, and sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and chronic insomnia.
“Sleep troubles may be clinically significant if they cause impairment of daytime function or cause or aggravate medical problems,” Espiritu said. “Alternatively, the person may resort to the use of sleeping pills, alcohol, narcotics, sedatives, etc., to help them sleep or use stimulants and excessive caffeine to stay awake. Adult men may become irritable and prone to anger while children may become hyperactive. Obesity, glucose intolerance, and frequent infections may also occur with lack of sleep.”
At his sleep center, obstructive sleep apnea accounts for 95 percent of the cases they encounter. Obstructive sleep apnea causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep and is a serious sleep disorder. Espiritu said while the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device addresses that issue, only one or two patients can use CPAP adequately long-term.
Espiritu said, “A happy lifestyle with good diet and exercise, good sleep hygiene, avoidance of substance use, and treatment of medical, psychiatric, and sleep disorders can enhance the quantity and quality of nighttime sleep.”
For more information on Saint Louis University Sleep Disorders Center or to schedule a sleep evaluation or referral, call 314-977-5337.