How Losing A few Hours of Sleep Can Take Years Off Your Life

fergrtwgDid you know the quantity of sleep you get each night has a direct correlation to the health and longevity of your life? Sleep loss can cause mayhem from top to bottom. One study showed that after just seven days of getting fewer than half a dozen hours of sleep a night caused changes to well over 600-700 genes because of sleep deprivation alone. These changes in genes affected inflammation, immunity, and caused stress issues. Yikes!

The Scary Facts

Scientists and medical personnel across the globe have studied the effects that sleep deprivation has on the human body, and the discoveries are alarming.

  • If you sleep less than seven hours per night, your chance of getting sick triples.
  • Lack of sleep has been linked to colorectal and aggressive breast cancers. In addition, your risk of stroke quadruples, your risk of developing diabetes goes up, you have an increased risk of heart disease, and in men, it can cause a decrease in sperm count.
  • There is a relationship between sleep deprivation and increased risk for obesity. Small bouts of sleep deprivation are linked with the desire to fill up on larger portions with higher calories and higher carbs. It also increases the probability of going for those super bad foods while at the grocery store.
  • If you’re constantly exhausted, you are more likely to have or cause accidents, you won’t look like your best self (or your most appropriate), you’re more apt to get emotional, and you’ll be less focused and may even experience memory problems.

As if that isn’t all alarming enough, one study found that only a single night of sleep deprivation was correlated with evidence of brain tissue loss. Furthermore, another SLEEP journal study evaluated 1,741 men and women over the course of 10 to 14 years, and found that men who slept fewer than six hours each night had a significant increase in mortality, even after adjusting for diabetes, hypertension, and other factors.

How We Sleep

Our body’s 24-hour cycle, known as circadian rhythm, is most commonly associated with our sleep patterns. This is why some people refer to themselves as “night owls”, who prefer to go to bed late and wake up late, while others are “morning people” who go to bed early and wake up early. However, what many don’t know is that circadian rhythm also regulates fluctuation of body temperature, blood pressure, and levels of digestive enzymes and various hormones.

Even the position we sleep in has an effect on our rest. Whether you’re a back, stomach, or side sleeper, these positions require proper bedding and support to optimize the way you sleep. According to The Sleep Judge, these are the best mattresses for side sleepers. They also recommend beds for other positions, too.

An article published in Harvard Women’s Health Watch describes it best when they say, “If sleep were a credit card company, many of us would be in deep trouble.” They say, the greater the sleep debt, the less capable we are of recognizing it. Once sleep deprived for two days or more, our bodies can hardly recall what it is like to be fully rested.

In some cases, sleep loss comes as a result of insomnia, but in many more cases, loss of sleep is caused by our overly busy lives. We fail to get to bed on time and we fail to stay there until we’ve slept enough.

Sleep Construction

According to Maslow’s famous pyramid, rest is clearly outlined as a basic human need, right alongside food and water.  As showcased above, loss of sleep can have extremely debilitating effects on your body.

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Encephalography (EEG) readings have shown that there are 2 types of sleep, distinguishable from one another by detailed brain-wave activity and the company or lack of rapid eye movement (REM). In non-REM sleep, brain waves are slow, more coordinated, and the eyes do not move. In REM sleep, brain waves are faster, less organized, and the eyes scan side to side under the eyelids.

Non-REM Sleep

Non-REM sleep involves 4 levels or stages that span from shallow to deep sleep. In Stage 1 we are just about to fall asleep, but by Stage 4 we are in a super deep rest. You can tell that someone has reached Stage 4 of Non-REM sleep because their breathing slows, blood pressure and heart rate drops, and they are harder to wake up.

REM Sleep

REM sleep, or Stage 4 in the sleep cycle, is where dreams occur. Our eyes are rapidly moving but our body remains paralyzed. REM sleep cultivates cognition and basic problem-solving. On average, REM sleep occurs after having been asleep for at least 90 minutes and often lasts around 10 minutes before the cycle begins again.

Whether your bed is soft and comfortable or hard and lumpy, a typical night’s sleep entails about 4 or 5 sleep cycles, where most Stage 4 sleep occurs during the first couple of hours. As our bodies grow, change, and age, so do our sleep cycles. While someone in his or her early 30’s may require eight hours of sleep, someone in his or her 60’s may only need six. The key is to listen to your body and provide it with rest when it asks for it.

Tips for Optimal Sleep

If you’re having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, here’s some advice.

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A Cool Routine

Sleep in a chilly and somewhat dark room (temps between 60-73 degrees). Cold helps decrease your body temperature, which is proven to initiate tiredness. Try going to sleep at a similar time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning. Soon, you will get used to the repetitiveness and it will become easier to get better rest.

No Food, No Screen Time

Don’t eat carbs before bed. If you must eat at night, try a snack like nuts or veggies.

Reduce caffeine intake. The effects of caffeine can last up to 12 hours, so it is recommended to drink your last cup no later than 3 p.m. Don’t watch TV, work on your computer, or stare at your iPhone before you go to sleep. The brightness of the screen can provoke alertness. Instead, try reading a book or meditating.

Quiet Your Brain

If your mind is going a mile a minute thinking about all of the things you have to do the next day, try writing them on paper. It’ll give your brain a chance to dump that information elsewhere, so you can go to bed with a clear head. Take a quick catnap. When limited to 30 minutes or less, and not too close to bedtime, you won’t interrupt your nightly sleep routine.

Look at Your Bed

Change mattresses. If you’re losing sleep because you’re uncomfortable in your bed, maybe you’re sleeping on the wrong mattress. Whether you prefer a springy mattress, a firm feel, or something soft and comfortable like memory foam, find your fit and buy it.

Rise Early and Exercise

Set an alarm in the morning and at night. At night, it will remind you when it’s time to go to bed and in the morning, it will wake you up. This will elicit a sleep pattern. Get sunlight first thing in the morning. It forces your brain to remain awake and on high alert early in the day so you can ease into sleep a little earlier at night.  Exercise regularly. Even a few minutes of physical activity, whether in the morning, mid-day, or in the evening can help. Doctors say that in particular, Yoga is great for winding down at the end of the day and is used to calm your mind, slow your breathing, and slow your heart rate.

Too Much Sleep

The endless evidence pointing to a correlation between sleep deprivation and an unhealthy life makes the notion undeniable. However, on the other end of the spectrum, sleep too much also has its risks.

The sleep standard has a hefty eight hours for as long as we can remember. ­­Recent research from the NSF (National Sleep Foundation) adjusts that number slightly to be anywhere in the area of at least 7 to 9 hours for a normal, healthy adult. Any number of hours of sleep exceeding nine is considered excessive or “oversleeping”.

An article by Rosie Osmun says that sometimes sleep in during the morning is a good thing and is probably not a huge deal. If you regularly sleep more than nine hours each night or don’t feel well-rested on less than that, then it becomes a cause for concern.

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Effects of Poor Sleep Habits:

  • Cognitive issues
  • Depression
  • Increased inflammatory issues
  • Increased levels of pain
  • Fertility problems
  • Bigger risk of obesity
  • Bigger risk of diabetes
  • Bigger risk of heart issues
  • Bigger risk of having a stroke
  • Bigger risk of death

Conclusion

It’s no secret that we all lead busy lives. Work, school, and responsibilities make it difficult to relax, slow down, and clear our minds. Eventually, these stressors take their toll on our bodies, wreaking havoc on our health. Live longer, live better, and be healthier by listening to your body and developing a sleep pattern that is right for you.

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