Why Losing Sleep Is Bad For Your Health - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on October 15, 2014

Why Losing Sleep Is Bad For Your Health

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Not getting a good night’s sleep is frustrating. When your alarm goes off in the morning it can be jarring. And then, throughout the day, you’re dealing with drowsiness, trying to stay awake at your desk. But losing sleep can be far more harmful to your health than simply making it difficult to stay awake at work.

Getting plenty of sleep each night is crucial for your health – it helps memory and mood, keeps you slim, strengthens your immune system, fights inflammation and keeps your heart and blood vessels in tiptop condition.

“On average, adolescents and adults need nine to nine-and –a-half hours of sleep every night,” said Vatsala Ramprasad, M.D., a pediatric pulmonologist and sleep physician at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. However, most people only get about seven-and-a-half hours of sleep each night, which adds up to more than two full weeks of slumber lost every year.

The short-term effects of losing some shuteye can lead to a foggy brain, worsened vision, impaired driving and trouble remembering. The long-term effects are much scarier, including heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. In addition, lack of sleep over a period of time can contribute to the symptoms of depression and cause you to gain weight.

If you’re losing sleep, especially on a regular basis, there are some common causes you can blame, including:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Medical conditions
  • A change in your environment or work schedule
  • Eating too much too late in the day
  • Certain medications
  • Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
  • Eating or exercising late in the evening
  • Watching TV, texting or playing video games at bedtime

The good news is there are some things you can do to combat many of the barriers to good quality sleep.

“Limit your use of electronics for at least an hour and a half before bedtime – their blue light is very stimulating,” Dr. Ramprasad said. The light emitted from your electronics interferes with your body’s circadian rhythm, which controls the production of melatonin – a hormone that makes you sleepy.

You should also pay attention to the time you go to bed and wake up.

“You need to keep bed times and wake times constant – you don’t want to vary it more than one hour. Keeping those times more constant helps to regulate your circadian rhythm,” Dr. Ramprasad explained.

If you’re a coffee drinker or reach for an afternoon caffeinated beverage, that might inhibit your sleep at night. Dr. Ramprasad recommends avoiding caffeine after noon each day.

While daily physical activity is great for your overall health, the time of day you exercise can affect your sleep.

“If you’re going to exercise, it needs to be at least three hours before your bedtime because the endorphins released during the activity can keep you awake,” she said.

If you’re on medications, try to take them during the day rather than at night – certain medications can affect sleep.

And the last thing you should do before hopping into bed at night is to check your thermostat.

“Your bedroom should be on the cooler side,” Dr. Ramprasad said. Your body temperature rises and falls slightly throughout the day, which is a pattern tied to your sleep cycle. As you become tired, your body temperature goes down and then climbs slightly as the morning begins. If the air in your room is too hot, it may interfere with your body’s natural dip and make you more restless throughout the night.

“Good sleep hygiene is like dental hygiene – it needs to be practiced,” Dr. Ramprasad explained, adding that following these recommendations to achieve more quality sleep each night will improve your overall wellbeing now and in the future. And you’ll also feel so much better about your alarm going off each morning!

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