August 7, 2012 in Features, Health

Lack of sleep can have consequences

Anthony L. Komaroff Universal Uclick

DEAR DOCTOR K: Between work and caring for my kids, I barely get four hours of sleep a night. Are there long-term consequences of this kind of sleep deprivation?

DEAR READER: If you are like most people, you’re not getting enough sleep, and there could be consequences. There are some people who appear to need less sleep than the average person and who don’t pay a price for getting less of it. But we’re not sure of that, and we don’t know how to identify such people.

So I have to assume you’re like the average person, who needs seven and a half to eight hours per night. If so, then sleeping only four hours a night means you are suffering from partial sleep deprivation. You are getting some sleep, but not the amount that most people need.

After only two or more nights of short sleep, most people usually show signs of irritability and sleepiness. Work performance begins to suffer, and you’re more likely to experience headaches, stomach problems and sore joints. You’re also at far higher risk of falling asleep while driving.

But inadequate sleep over months or years can have more serious, potentially life-threatening consequences:

• Viral infections. There’s some evidence that when you’re tired, you’re more likely to get sick.

• Weight gain. Sleep deprivation can make you feel hungrier and slow your body’s metabolism. And when you’re tired, you’re less likely to exercise. Taken together, this combination can lead to unhealthy weight gain.

• Diabetes. Insufficient sleep can disrupt your body’s hormone regulation, increasing your risk for Type 2 diabetes.

• High blood pressure. Sleeping fewer than six hours per night appears to increase your risk of high blood pressure.

• Heart disease. One large study found that compared with women who slept for seven hours, women who got no more than four hours of shut-eye were twice as likely to die from heart disease.

• Mental illness. Sleep problems often precede a diagnosis of major depression and anxiety.

Getting enough sleep requires discipline. Block off certain hours for sleep and then follow through.

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