Missing a few hours of sleep at night can lead to more than just a groggy morning. In fact, over time, it may be causing more harm than many realize. The United States is a sleep-deprived nation, with more than 70 million people who have some form of chronic sleep problem.
Missing out on sleep can affect anything from behavior to heart health, depending on your stage of life.
As a sleep specialist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, I’ve seen that, for adults, sleep deprivation contributes to a variety of health complications as we age. As it accumulates over the years, sleep loss can increase your risk for obesity, diabetes, depression, and heart and blood pressure problems.
Also, as we get older the quality of our sleep decreases. This is often due to stress, taking care of children, existing medical conditions, or light and noise disruptions.
Later adulthood is also when sleep-related disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, are more likely. For men, having an enlarged prostate can lead to frequent nighttime bathroom trips, interrupting sleep. Certain medications — such as prescription drugs for heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure, and asthma — can also disrupt sleep cycles.
For women, biological changes such as your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause can affect how well you sleep. During menopause you may experience night sweats and insomnia due to changing hormone levels. Other symptoms associated with menopause, like hot flashes, can also interrupt sleep and cause fatigue.
It’s important to understand how much sleep you need throughout life, because you often pay for lack of sleep later on. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. However, there’s no magic amount; what’s best depends on you. While you may only need seven hours, others may need eight or nine to be productive and happy.
To improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep, I recommend:
- Avoiding intense exercise at least three hours before bedtime.
- Establishing a wind-down routine that includes dim lighting and eliminating or decreasing any noise disturbances.
- Avoiding electronics (smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc.) right before bed, because the blue light they emit can make it difficult to fall asleep.
Sleep is essential for muscle repair, strengthening memory, regulating hormones that are responsible for growth and appetite, and much more. Not getting enough of it can be detrimental to anyone, regardless of age. Sleep is a time the body uses to restore itself and gain energy, so it’s important to practice healthy sleeping habits.
By Aneesa Das, MD, Special to Everyday Health