As a physician for the past 40 years, like the majority of my colleagues, I have always encouraged my patients to exercise and eat a balanced diet as cornerstones of maintaining good health.
More specifically, as a pulmonary physician, I have inquired about symptoms of sleep apnea, but rarely have I been concerned about how many hours my patients slept.
Recently data has shown that sleep is a third cornerstone of good health, alongside diet and exercise. You may think that you are doing everything right by tracking your diet and daily activity, but if you are not getting adequate sleep you may be slowly killing yourself.
That might sound extreme, but it's what the data suggests.
What the Numbers Show
We spend about 30% of our lives in bed.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), recent data collected over multiple studies confirms that sleeping less than 6 to 8 hours a night is a risk factor for the development of heart disease, hypertension, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. All of these diseases are associated with premature death.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and accounts for about 1/3 of all deaths over the age of 35.
It has been well documented that short sleep duration is associated with cardiovascular morbidity and death. It is also known that C reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation, is a predictor of future cardiovascular disease and recent studies have shown high levels of CRP in sleep-deprived patients.
Hypertension & Sleep
Hypertension is the largest known risk factor for cardiovascular disease. While we sleep, typically our blood pressure falls, our heart rate dips, and our sympathetic tone decreases. Recent published data has highlighted the fact that there are some people who have normal daytime pressures, while there are others who have hypertension who don’t demonstrate the normal dipping at night and are at higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
Multiple studies have shown a consistent relationship between short sleep duration and hypertension, and a recent study suggests that if you have short sleep, you have a 20% greater chance of developing hypertension.
On a positive note, some recent studies have shown that certain people with mild hypertension might be able to lower their blood pressure by sleeping an additional hour each night.
Short sleepers have been noted to have a 15% increased incidence of fatal and non-fatal stroke.
Sleep, obesity & diabetes
Whether sleep deprivation causes obesity or conversely whether obesity leads to shorter sleep, it has been shown that approximately 55% of obese individuals have shortened sleep.
Recent experiments on healthy adults have shown that sleep deprivation may cause an increase in energy intake and a decrease in energy expenditure through hormonal responses that regulate appetite and energy balance.
A growing body of evidence indicates that chronic partial sleep loss may be associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes. Lab studies in humans have demonstrated that sleep curtailment has an effect on the hormones that tell us when we are full and others that tell us we need to eat. When we eat food we store energy and when we exercise we burn energy. These changes in hormone levels may be one of the factors leading to the relationship between sleep deprivation and obesity.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that is characterized by the body’s inability to utilize glucose and is associated with obesity. There have been a number of studies that indicate that reduced sleep is associated with glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and reduced acute insulin response to glucose — all predisposing people to type 2 diabetes.
The bottom line
In addition to chronic diseases and conditions, sleep deprivation leads to daytime sleepiness and has been implicated in traffic accidents, in work injuries, and in slips and falls in the elderly, which are also all implicated in premature deaths.
What we can pretty easily conclude is that sleep is not just a time to rest your mind and your muscles.
It is a complex state with many functions that has multiple implications for our long-term health and survival.
Don’t let sleep deprivation be the death of you.
Are you sleep deprived? What do you do to get the sleep you need? Let us know in the comments below.