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Why Lack of Sleep Is Killing Us

Cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, cardiovascular disease, a shorter lifespan. What do all these outcomes have in common? Answer: lack of sufficient sleep.

The family practice doctors at Cohen Associates in Delray Beach, Florida, often include advice to our patients to be sure they get enough sleep. And now new research is confirming what science has known for decades.

As recently as 1980, television networks signed off between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. and insomniacs were left with nothing left to watch on the screen but a test pattern. In the intervening years, the advent of the Internet, email, smart phones, social media, and global trade have conspired to rob the average American of a healthy night’s sleep. And it turns out we’re paying a price.

The latest research on a number of fronts has highlighted the problems with sleep deprivation, with some researchers calling it a national health crisis. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sufficient sleep also helps support growth and development.

Effect on youngsters

One new study, published this month in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that only five percent of nearly 60,000 teens studied between 2011 and 2017 received the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep.

“These findings don’t surprise me,” Dr. Cora Breuner, professor of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, told CNN. “We see so many of our high school students spending over four, five, six hours per day on non-educational screen time,” she said.

Breuner, who is also chair of the Committee on Adolescence at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), explained that not only are teens afraid of missing the most recent Instagram Post or Snapchat video, they may also lie awake long after the devices are turned off thinking about whatever conversation they just had or homework they still haven’t completed.

In addition, the blue light from the screens has been shown to suppress melatonin secretion, interrupting sleep patterns.

Other studies have found that preschoolers who miss naps are worse at memory games than those who nap regularly. The AAP recommends a total of 10 to 13 hours of sleep a day for preschoolers, including naps.

Impact on all ages

“It used to be popular for people to say, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ The ironic thing is, not sleeping enough may get your there sooner,” Dr. Daniel Buysse, a professor of sleep medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, told The Washington Post recently.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to a third of Americans do not get the recommended seven hours of sleep a night. Japanese researchers found that losing six hours of sleep over a single night resulted in significantly elevated blood glucose and triglyceride levels, warning signs for increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

According to the NIH, here are some of the effects of insufficient sleep on adults, as well as children and teens.

Brain and emotions

Sleep helps form new pathways to enhance learning, memory, problem-solving, decision-making, and creativity. Sleep deficiency has been linked to anxiety, depression, suicide, risky behavior, and inability to cope with change. The loss of even a single night of sleep has been shown to increase formation of the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, children who are sleep deficient may feel angry and impulsive, have difficulty paying attention, and get lower grades.

Physical health

Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke in adults. It also increases the risk of obesity in all age groups. In addition, insufficient sleep hinders the body’s ability to repair itself, including hampering the immune system. Sleep also supports healthy growth and development in children and teens, helping to boost muscle mass.

Performance and Safety

A loss of even one to two hours of sleep a night over several nights has the same effect as if you haven’t slept at all for a day or two. Sleep deficiency not only interferes with the ability to drive a car, it can affect people in all lines of work, including health care workers, pilots, students, lawyers, mechanics, and assembly-line workers. So insufficient sleep is not only affecting those who experience it, but can impact others, as well. The NIH estimates that driver sleepiness is a factor in approximately 100,000 auto accidents each year, resulting in about 1,500 deaths.

Sleep is critical to maintain life. If you often feel sleepy during the day, don’t wake up feeling refreshed and alert, or are having problems adapting to shift work, talk to us. We can help uncover the issues disturbing your sleep, and offer solutions to address this critical area of your life.

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