Get Some Sleep!

Skimping even a little on shut-eye can slow the body’s basic functions.

We are a nation of doers, not sleepers. We say things like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” and “Sleep is a poor substitute for caffeine.”

We don’t announce to co-workers that we had a restful eight hours. Nope. We might even brag about our sleep deprivation.

“Our total sleep time has been decreasing and decreasing. In a perfect world, we’d get seven or eight hours of sleep,” says Raj Dasgupta, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. But now, he says, “our total sleep time has decreased to six to seven hours” on average.

At that pace, it won’t be long before it’s typical to get just five hours a night, he says. And that has serious consequences for every part of our bodies.

Brain

It doesn’t take a medical degree to know you aren’t sharp as a tack on four hours of sleep. “When you are sleep deprived, it’s well-documented you have poor attention and poor decision-making, and the chance of you making a mistake, whether on a test or at work, is high,” Dasgupta says.

For top-notch function, your brain needs to reach deeper stages of sleep, such as REM (rapid eye movement) and N3 (slow-wave, deep sleep). That’s when your brain consolidates what you learned during the day into long-term memories.

Heart

Failing to get to deep-sleep stages can increase stress hormones such as cortisol, norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, Dasgupta says, which causes your blood pressure to rise. That’s stressful on the heart.

This is a particular problem of people who wake up frequently overnight because of insomnia or sleep apnea, a disorder marked by shallow breaths or pauses in breathing while sleeping.

High blood pressure means your heart has to work harder to pump blood, and it puts you at higher risk for heart failure.

Waistline

Sleep deprivation and sleep apnea are linked to obesity. The reason is hormonal, Dasgupta says.

“Leptin begins with the letter L, and L stands for lose weight. You want to secrete leptin while you sleep,” he says. “Instead, when you get too little sleep, you secrete ghrelin, which stands for gain weight.” In short, he says, people who lack sleep end up with too much ghrelin and not enough leptin. And that imbalance can cause an increase in appetite.

Immune System

Ever been really stressed, gone to bed and gotten up the next morning with a tickle in your throat? Sleep deprivation is strongly associated with a weakened immune system. In fact, Dasgupta says, there are some vaccines that don’t work as well when given to a sleep-deprived person.

 

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