One of the most frequent topics of discussion with my patients regards sleep – how much they’re getting and how not getting enough sleep can affect them. My patients are amazed when I tell them all the poor health effects that can occur from not getting enough sleep. In fact, research studies find more and more connections between sleep and adverse health conditions all the time. I’d like to share this information with you as well so you can start protecting your health better by paying more attention to your sleep habits.
Little Sleep Equals Big Health Problems
Sleep quality is frequently an issue of concern for many of my over 50 age patients. Perhaps like them, you too are leading a very busy life and there are just not enough hours in the day to do all the things on your hectic schedules. Like my patients, you may also be cutting down on sleep time to fit in all your activities. However, that’s the one area of your life that shouldn’t be cut back on as it could cost you your good health.
New research studies come across my desk every week about the health risks posed by not getting enough sleep. Even I’m surprised sometimes at some of the health conditions that can be caused, and/or aggravated, by just not sleeping enough. Here are some of them:
1. Obesity. A new study out of the University of Chicago shows that getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep stops you from secreting certain hormones that turn your appetite switch off. The study cites that 18% of Americans (equals about 53 million people) get fewer than 6 hours sleep and is a group of people at risk for associated obesity. In another study out of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, teens that do not sleep enough have daytime sleepiness and crave carbs more. Eating excess carbohydrate-rich foods can lead to excess weight gain.
2. Fibromyalgia. Research out of Norway has identified that this painful muscle condition that affects mostly women (although men also get it), can be caused and/or aggravated by not getting enough sleep. The study showed that associated with fibromyalgia patients painful muscle symptoms were obesity, chronic insomnia, nighttime awakening, and daytime fatigue. Their conclusion was that early detection of insomnia could prevent development of fibromyalgia.
3. Tinnitus. Ringing in the ears. Recent studies out of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit have shown that insomnia can worsen this disorder. Patients with tinnitus experienced less tolerance for the condition when they did not sleep enough.
4. Cataracts. A study out of Denmark has associated the development of yellowing of the eye lens, and the ability to perceive blue light which signals melatonin production, with the development of cataracts. In addition, the “sleep hormone” melatonin decreases, as you get older as well. Melatonin is also a major antioxidant that your body needs to fight the oxidation damage of free radicals. Starting around age 50 melatonin levels start to decrease so that by age 60, the age most people start developing cataracts, their melatonin levels are pretty low. Not enough melatonin can keep you awake at night and the build up of free radicals can cause oxidation damage on your lenses.
5. Diabetes. Getting diabetes from lack of sleep is likely an offshoot of obesity associated with lack of sleep. The extra weight causes decreases in insulin sensitivity, especially as you get older, and type 2 diabetes can develop from this. A study out of Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia has also shown that getting a good night’s sleep can reduce the risk of development of type 2 diabetes in obese teens. The study cited that 3 out of 4 teens also did not get enough sleep.
6. Heart disease. Studies out of the Chicago Medical School show that sleeping less than 6 hours a night can increase your risk for stroke, congenital heart disease and heart attack. If you’re also overweight and have type 2 diabetes, your risk increases dramatically.
7. Hypertension. Studies out of several hospitals and Harvard Medical School show that lack of deep “slow wave” sleep results in a significantly increased risk of hypertension in older men.
How Can I Get More Sleep?
I tell my patients that all of us have individual sleep needs. However, even though some of us can “get by” on less than 6 hours of sleep here and there, I don’t recommend doing that all the time. If your life is so jam-packed with work requirements and other activities that you can’t get at least 6 hours a night, it’s time to rearrange priorities before your health suffers. Here are a few things that can help you get more sleep:
- Try melatonin. Start with 1 mg about an hour before bedtime. If you take any type of hormone replacement therapy, ask your doctor or pharmacist first about taking melatonin.
- Decompress from stress. After 8 pm, start trying to wind down from your day to get your body ready to relax and sleep by 10-11 pm. Some of my patients tell me that doing strenuous exercise a few hours prior to bedtime helps de-stress them and makes them tired enough to fall asleep. Others tell me this kind of exercise keeps them awake. Try some relaxing music, or read a book, watch a movie. Herbal, no caffeine, relaxing, sleep-inducing teas like Rooibos or chamomile can help relax you.
- Calcium and magnesium. Some people who have trouble sleeping may have mineral deficiencies of calcium and magnesium. Try drinking some warm milk with 250 mg of magnesium and see if this helps you get to sleep.
There were times in my life when I’ve had trouble sleeping and I know how irritable and out of sorts it can make you feel. Sleep is when your body repairs itself, so do your health a favor and be sure to get between 6-8 hours sleep a night.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
Role of Impaired Sleep in Fibromyalgia Pain Explored, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120423103724.htm <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120423103724.htm>
Insomnia Takes Toll on Tinnitus Patients, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120419090548.htm <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120419090548.htm>
Cataracts, http://www.lef.org/protocols/prtcl-030b.shtml <http://www.lef.org/protocols/prtcl-030b.shtml>