A recent Newsweek article by Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep, discusses the correlation between sleep deprivation and obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. According to Dr. Epstein, the less sleep you routinely get, the more likely you are to be obese and of course develop the other three conditions. Studies show that the obesity link is true regardless of age- little kids who don’t get enough sleep are at risk of future obesity. According to the article “Researchers at the University of Chicago have shown that too little sleep changes the body’s secretion of some hormones. The changes promote appetite, reduce the sensation of feeling full after a meal, and alter the body’s response to sugar intake…”
Okay that’s another strike against me and another excuse for my obesity! I was a fat baby already- over eleven pounds. And then for most of my childhood I remember getting up before sunrise to go work in the fields. When we were traveling in the summer Dad woke us up at 2am to “hit the road before it gets hot”. That “early to rise” habit has stayed with me all of my life.
Studies also show that the average adult needs from 7-9 hours of sleep per night and that Americans are currently sleeping an average of 6.9 hours per night, an hour less than my parents’ generation. One third of Americans report sleeping problems as one of their health concerns.
My sleep pattern falls into the 7 hour range, although I usually nap for thirty minutes to an hour sometime during the day, so that adds up to nearly eight hours. My usual routine is to get up at 4am and I’m in bed by 9:30. During the summer I’ll fall asleep for 30-45 minutes after lunch. During the school year I usually nap from 5-5:30. Of course there are always variations in anyone’s usual routine- this morning I slept until 5am. A couple of days this week I didn’t nap at all.
The Chicago study showed that subjects who got ten hours of sleep for a couple of nights in a row were able to reset their hormone levels and lower their appetites. Ten? Seriously? I’m not sure how any American, especially parents, could possibly get ten hours of sleep. In some professions there is barely ten hours between work shifts! I don’t know what the current laws are, but for many years truck drivers were required to have a ten hour break between driving periods. Ten hours does not give you much actual sleep time if you also eat and take a shower! And workers in industries with alternating shifts often have less than ten hours between shift changes. I don’t think I could physically MAKE myself sleep ten hours, even in the summer when my time is my own.
Many of my friends and family members complain that their problem is falling asleep at all. Traditionally women have been plagued by this problem more than men because of hormones, parenting worries, stress, and work habits. According to the National Sleep Foundation women are 1.3 times more likely than men to report insomnia. And 25% of Americans take some kind of medication to help them sleep. That number is rising rapidly. Falling asleep has never been a problem for me. Gary says my average time from “head touching the pillow” to “sound asleep” is about five minutes! However, he often spends up to two hours tossing and turning before falling asleep.
Staying asleep is a problem for some people. They fall asleep quickly, but awaken several times during the night because of sleep apnea, body aches and pains, restless leg syndrome, bladder problems, or nightmares. This has been a problem for me sometimes. I was plagued by restless leg syndrome for almost a year. Allergy problems often awaken me during the spring. Finding solutions usually means changes in routine, diet, or medications.
All of the sleep research seems to conclude that Americans are risking their health and safety by not getting enough rest. Everything from lower productivity at work to auto accidents to marital problems can be blamed on lack of sleep. And now we can add obesity to the list.
So consider this your warning for the week. Anything that prevents you from falling asleep or consistently keeps you from sleeping through the night needs to be addressed by your doctor. You may not even realize that sleep deprivation is affecting your actions or reactions during the day unless someone else mentions changes in your behavior.
Have a great day! And then get some sleep…