Is a good night’s sleep the missing component to a healthy lifestyle? Scientists and physicians are re-examining how they view sleep. Once thought of as a luxury, a good night’s rest is now considered a necessary part of a healthy life to prevent the onset of chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. And physicians should know, as medical students and residents have long been required to work long shifts during their training, most doctors can speak about the effects of sleep deprivation from experience.
How Much Sleep Is Safe…For You & Society?
The average adult requires seven to nine hours of sleep per night. According to a 2011 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 63% of Americans report that their sleep needs are not being met, with most participants reporting less than 7 hours per night. Sleep deprivation is dangerous, both for an individual’s health and for society. From traffic accidents caused by “drowsy drivers”, medical errors caused by sleep deprived shift workers to major disasters such as the space shuttle Challenger explosion, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster or the Exon Valdez oil spill, the effects of sleepiness are wide-ranging and long-lasting.
Get Your ZZZ’s to Prevent Diabetes, Hypertension & Heart Disease
Short-term sleep deprivation, even in healthy individuals, has been proven to cause a decrease in glucose tolerance. Studies have now shown that long-term sleep deprivation, particularly less than five hours per night, may change the way the body processes glucose and increase the risk of type II diabetes. Inadequate sleep over long durations has also been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Short periods of sleep deprivation are known to increase blood pressure. A 2003 study, enrolled over 71,000 female nurses over 10 years and found that even after correcting for other factors such as age, weight and the risks of heart disease, sleeping less than 5 hours or more than 9 hours per night was an independent risk factor for developing heart disease.
Putting It All Together
A recent study from the Netherlands looked at sleep from a different angle. Instead of investigating the effect of sleep deprivation, the researches examined the health benefits of sleep along with other components of a healthy lifestyle, such as exercise, and a healthy diet. The MORGEN study (Monitoring Project in Risk Factors for Chronic Disease) followed over 14,000 healthy individuals and found that exercise, a healthy diet, non-smoking and moderate alcohol consumption lowered risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 57%. But when the researchers added in a 5th lifestyle modification, seven or more hours of sleep per night, the health benefit was even greater, a 65% decreased risk in cardiovascular disease. The researchers found the greatest benefit when combining all 5 healthy behaviors, but simply achieving adequate sleep duration alone also decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, by a similar effect to not smoking.
The impacts of a healthy, well-rested population could be tremendous. As someone who has personally experienced years of sleep deprivation for the sake of my career, a good night’s sleep is a top priority. I can certainly feel the effect on my energy levels, my mood, my concentration and my cognitive function when I am well rested compared to after working a 30-hour shift. For the sake of health now and in the future, eight hours of sleep is part of my wellness goals.