What to Do If You Are Not Getting Enough Sleep

insomnia sleep problems Jun 05, 2018

It’s no secret that busy adults do not get enough sleep.  In fact there are many adults who are trudging through life in a state of chronic sleep deprivation.  It’s a badge of honor for some.  Have you ever heard a colleague brag that he or she only needs 3 hours of sleep each night?  Does this make him/her a super human or just a stupid human?  Turns out, it is probably the latter.


While there are many serious chronic health issues that are associated with chronic sleep deprivation (we’ll get to those in a minute), a more insidious problem occurs with just even one night of not enough zzz’s.  Sleeping less than 7 hours per night causes decreases in cognitive function.  These cognitive problems accumulate over time.  The less you sleep, the less smart you are.  In fact, in one study of 48 healthy individuals who were limited to either 4 or 6 hours of sleep each night for 14 nights, the decline in cognitive function was equivalent to that found in individuals who were completely deprived of sleep for 2 straight days (Van Dongen, 2003).


In addition to not being able to remember what you had for breakfast, sleep deprivation causes a host of metabolic and endocrine abnormalities that can have serious health consequences.  Even one night of sleep deprivation causes increases in appetite, cortisol levels (a stress hormone), inflammatory markers, and insulin resistance.  I’ve written at length about the links between insulin resistance, chronic inflammation and breast cancer.  Lack of adequate sleep also puts you at risk for obesity and diabetes.  And those two lovely conditions put you at risk for a host of other chronic diseases like heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and cancer.  Oh, and also an increased risk of breast cancer recurrence.


But all hope is not lost.  Especially for those of you who have jobs that require sleep deprivation during the week (NB: this does not include hours of Netflix watching). A recent article in the Journal of Sleep Research reported on the results of a study that followed a cohort of more than 43,000 individuals for 13 years.  In this study they found that individuals who had short sleep (< 5 hours per night) during the week and long sleep (> 9 hours per night) on the weekends did not suffer any additional health problems compared to individuals who consistently slept 6 to 7 hours per night.  So, if you have one of those sleep deprivation causing jobs, you can catch up on the weekends and make up for it.


How much sleep is “enough”?  That will vary by individuals of course, but for most of us it appears that we live longer if we get between 7 and 8 hours per night.  In some studies, too much sleep can be harmful as well.  Here are a few interesting charts that highlight this (and a pic is worth a thousand words). 


Overall Mortality and Sleep: 


Insulin Resistance, Type II Diabetes and Sleep:

BMI and Sleep:

These helpful charts were taken from the following reference:

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