How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Health

By , Category : General Health

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Shainhouse_161215Sleep deprivation not only has negative physiological impacts—it can also affect your day-to-day functioning.

Getting adequate sleep is essential for many different reasons. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will not only feel groggy and exhausted the next day, you will likely be more emotional and have impaired cognitive functioning and diminished physical health. Therefore, your body needs at least seven hours of sleep each night. Getting anything less than that can increase your risk of heart disease and related risks such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack and stroke.

Within the last 15 years, there has been more than a 15% decline in the percentage of Americans getting adequate sleep. The rates of obesity and diabetes, on the other hand, have increased during this time. Weight status has been shown to be negatively affected by inadequate sleep patterns. Furthermore, not allowing your body to physically and mentally rest can alter your glucose metabolism.

Can Sleep Deprivation Lead to Weight Gain?

Weight status can have a great influence on achieving restful and healthy sleep patterns. In fact, several studies have shown that reducing your weight may improve your quality and duration of sleep.

In a long-term prospective study, researchers found that longer sleep duration among female adults during childhood resulted in a decreased risk of obesity in early adulthood. Furthermore, in a sixteen-year prospective study, researchers found that women who slept less than five hours per night had an increased risk of weight gain over sixteen years compared to women who slept for seven hours each night.

Several observational studies have demonstrated that obesity and being overweight are associated with short sleep duration. Short sleep duration is less than four and a half hours of sleep per night for an adult. Specifically, males are less likely to get adequate amounts of sleep each night due to more sleep disturbances.

Another longitudinal study evaluated the effects of sleep duration on weight status and fat mass over a six-year period. Adult participants were divided into two groups: one continued with their regular sleep patterns of less than six hours per night, whereas the other group increased their sleep duration over the six-year period. Participants who continued with their short sleep cycles had more BMI and fat mass compared to participants who had increased their sleep duration.

However, too much sleep can also negatively impact your weight. Sleeping too much could lead to exhaustion, decreased productivity, poor energy levels, and reduced motivation.

Perhaps achieving the recommended sleep hours each night may mitigate some effects on weight gain. This is definitely an area that should be further investigated as findings have been inconsistent. However, sleep has definitely shown to play an important role in health and weight status.

Sleep and Energy Intake

Not only is poor sleep quality and duration associated with an increased risk of weight gain, it may also be associated with making poor food choices. A variety of studies have shown that those who sleep for less than seven hours per night are more likely to choose foods that are high in sugar, calories, and fat. Poor sleeping habits increase your likelihood of consuming junk foods and sugary snacks. Unfortunately, inadequate sleep leads to daytime exhaustion and making poor food choices both during the day and night.

Poor sleeping habits increase the likelihood that you will snack late at night and increase your overall caloric intake. One study found that certain areas of the brain were highly activated in response to unhealthy food intake after five nights of partial sleep deprivation compared to healthy adults getting normal amounts of sleep. Furthermore, inadequate sleep led to increased alcohol consumption. Of course alcohol also negatively impacts your ability to have a good night’s sleep. While findings have been inconsistent regarding hunger hormones and their affect on sleep patterns, adequate sleep does play a role in appetite.

Sleep and Diabetes

Inadequate sleep may be a cause for concern when it comes to risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies have demonstrated that sleeping for only four to five hours per night can result in decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity during waking hours.

Furthermore, it is not just the amount of sleep that you get but also the quality of sleep. Deep sleep is important for your body to maintain normal glucose metabolism. Since weight status also has an effect on sleep quality and duration, weight and sleep are both risk factors for type two diabetes.

How to Make Sure You Get Enough Sleep!

  • Prepare for sleep: Have a regular bedtime routine each day; try to go to bed and wake up at the same time. Your routine should include calming pre-bedtime activities such as meditating or reading a novel. Make sure your sleeping environment is accommodating to a good night’s sleep. It should be quiet, dim and comforting.
  • Physical activity: Engage in regular physical activity to help with sleep quality. Your routine can be as simple as daily walks, if you are used to a sedentary lifestyle. However, both aerobic and resistance activities have been shown to be beneficial for sleep. Just make sure that you do not exercise too close to bedtime, within a couple of hours, as it delays the release of melatonin, delaying your ability to fall asleep.
  • Massage therapy: Massages are a great way to relax. The therapeutic effects have been known to improve sleep quality. If financial constraints prevent you from receiving a professional massage, ask a family member or a friend to help you out. It has been shown to have similar effects.  Make sure it is relaxing though and not painful.
  • Daytime napping: If you have limited time to sleep during the night, this might be a good option for you, especially if you are a shift worker. It can help you achieve some quality sleep and help you catch up on sleep duration. Daytime naps are not known to affect your nighttime sleeping; however, you may experience decreased cognitive functioning and alertness immediately after awakening from your nap. Therefore, make sure to limit your naps to only 10 to 30 minutes.

Whether your goal is to achieve a healthy weight or an overall healthy lifestyle, sufficient sleep is essential for your overall health and wellbeing.

Source for Today’s Article:
Golem, D.L., et al., “An integrative review of sleep for nutrition professionals,” Advances in Nutrition, 2014; 5:742-759.

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Leah Shainhouse, R.D.

About the Author, Browse Leah's Articles

Leah Shainhouse is a Registered Dietitian with the College of Dietitians of Ontario and a member of the Dietitians of Canada. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science, Honors, in Nutritional Sciences from the University of British Columbia and went on to complete her dietetic training and Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition at McGill University. Leah has a strong desire to help shape the lives of individuals through a healthy lifestyle. She enjoys working with people to help... Read Full Bio »