You love your sleep, well, this may have you reconsider getting 10+ hours a night.

When we aim to be healthier, we generally focus on making changes to our diet or exercise routine. Sleep is an important pillar of health that commonly gets overlooked when addressing ways in which we can lead healthier lifestyles.

Establishing healthy sleep habits  is just as important as eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting the recommended amount of exercise.

A lack of, or too much sleep can be detrimental to our health for many reasons. There has been an abundance of research on how a lack of sleep can affect our health. Additionally, a new study recently published suggests that indulging in too much sleep or inactivity are also unhealthy.  In fact, these researchers found that individuals who spend most of their day sitting, or sleeping too much may be as likely to die as people who smoke or drink too much.

So how does a lack of or too much sleep affect our bodies?  How much sleep do we really need to be ‘healthy’ and how can we be successful in reaching those goals?

High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood pushing against artery walls with each pump of blood from the heart. When arteries become constricted, this creates more resistance for the blood coming from the heart to pump against and the heart has to work harder, causing high blood pressure (HBP), or hypertension. Over time, HBP can lead to heart disease and affect other organs. A study published in JAMA, found the association between lack of sleep and hardening of arteries. A lack of sleep can cause a buildup of calcium, resulting in constricted arteries, and higher blood pressure. Nearly one-third of the participants in this study who slept for less than 5 hours a night developed hardened arteries, putting them at greater risk for HBP.

Diabetes and Obesity

A study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, confirmed that either a lack of sleep, or sleeping outside the range of our body’s internal alarm clock can lead to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes. In a controlled environment, researchers restricted sleep and disrupted normal circadian function in over 20 subjects. In doing so they found that the participants’ resting metabolic rate was decreased, which can lead to a weight gain of 10 pounds over a year given that diet and activity remain unchanged.  They also found that a lack of sleep causes glucose levels in the blood to remain increased after meals due to poor regulation and insulin secretion, which can put you at an increased risk for diabetes.

Weight Gain

Sleeping too little, or too much, can cause weight gain. Research reported from the Mayo Clinic suggests that sleeping less than 5 hours, or more than 9 hours, appears to increase the likelihood of weight gain Sleep duration affects leptin and ghrelin–hormones that regulate hunger and stimulate the appetite, leading to weight gain.

Poor Performance

In addition to physical condition and conscious eating, sleep plays a major role in athletic performance.  Our body stores glycogen and carbohydrates for energy use during exercise. Research reported from the National Sleep Foundation suggests that when we do not get enough sleep, these stores deplete, which increases the possibility of fatigue, low energy and poor focus during our workouts, races or competitions.

Mood

Experts from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School explain that there is a strong correlation between sleep and mood. Poor quality, or a lack of sleep can cause irritability and stress while healthy sleep habits can enhance your mood.  Chronic insomnia may increase the chance of developing a mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression. To prevent this, first try improving your sleep habits with some of the suggestions listed below. If needed, some individuals may need behavioral intervention and assessment from a medial professional for a sleep or mood disorder.

Currently, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults aged 18-64 years get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. Despite a busy schedule, or a desire to sleep-in during the winter months, maintaining a regular sleep pattern of proper duration is crucial to your overall well-being. Here are several approaches you can take to make sure you are getting enough sleep to better your health:

  • Stick to a routine. Try to go to sleep and wake at the same time throughout the week.  Having consistency in your sleep-wake schedule can help to better set your body’s internal alarm clock and improve your quality of sleep.
  • Put your phone away. Any light you encounter prior to sleep can interfere with sleep patterns and quality but the blue light emitted from electronics has proven to be especially disruptive. It is recommended to shut these devices down 2 hours prior to sleep. If you must be on your phone prior to sleeping, turn down the brightness, or adjust the color.
  • Exercise. Maintaining a consistent exercise routine throughout the week can also help with sleep establishing a healthy sleep pattern. Try to not exercise within 3 hours of your bedtime, as this can negatively affect sleep.
  • Make a list. Generally, many of us toss and turn at night because of the thoughts that are consuming our minds. Putting these thoughts down on paper–whether it be a ‘to-do’ list of tasks for the next day, or writing in a journal, can aid in helping you rest.
  • Meditate. Anxiety and stress are common sleep inhibitors. Meditation has proven to ease anxiety and stress if practiced regularly. Try working meditation into your daily routine, and see if this help with your sleeping.  Here are 5 Apps that can help guide your meditation.
  • Take your pet to bed. A recent study published by Mayo Clinic found that sleeping with your pet may actually make for a better nights rest as it can give individuals a sense of security.
  • Download an App. There are a lot of apps that can help aid in maintaining proper sleep hygiene. Sleep Cycle. Made for the iPhone and Android, Sleep Cycle is an alarm clock that tracks your sleep patterns and wakes you during the ‘light sleep’ stage of the sleep cycle. Additionally, it tracks your movements and produces graphs with information about the quality and duration of sleep you are getting each night.

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