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Six ways more sleep will make you healthier

Published: Dec 16, 2016

By Mike Brassfield


“The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.” – American playwright Wilson Mizener

We spend nearly a third of our lives asleep – that is, most of us do. Unfortunately, more and more of us aren’t getting enough shuteye. Federal researchers say a third of Americans are getting less than seven hours of sleep per night.

By burning the midnight oil, we’re putting our health at risk.

We all know that a lack of sleep can make us groggy and unfocused, but the consequences go far beyond that. People who aren’t getting adequate sleep are at greater risk for all kinds of medical problems. There’s still a lot we don’t know about sleep, but we’re learning more each year.

“Sleep medicine is a growing field,” said Dr. Karel Calero, assistant professor of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “We have had very little understanding of sleep, but our knowledge has been growing over the last few years.”

Most recently, a new study by the American Heart Association found that sleep disorders may contribute to the risk of heart disease.

Here are six reasons to get more sleep:

You’ll lose weight. When you don’t get enough Z’s, your body produces less of an appetite-regulating hormone called leptin. It also produces more of a hormone called ghrelin that stimulates your appetite for carbohydrates, sugars and fats. It’s not just that you feel too tired to cook a healthy dinner. For purely biological reasons, going without sleep makes you crave fattening foods.

Here’s a bonus: “If you lose weight, your risk of cardiovascular problems goes down significantly,” said Calero, who practices at the Tampa General Hospital Sleep Disorders Center.

You’ll think more clearly. Sleeping cleans up neurotoxins that build up in your brain during your waking hours. Sleep loss impairs your cognitive abilities. Studies show that sleep-deprived people are noticeably worse at solving math or logic problems.

“Kids that don’t get enough sleep don’t perform well in school. Athletes that sleep well perform better at sports,” Calero said. “Also, many highway crashes are linked to sleep deprivation.”

You’ll get sick less often. Studies show that our immune system functions better when we’re getting enough sleep. When you’re sleeping, your body releases proteins called cytokines that help fight off infections. Researchers have found that people who sleep less than six hours a night are four times as likely to catch a cold as people who sleep for at least seven hours.

You’ll live longer. Multiple studies have found that people who chronically get insufficient sleep are far more likely to develop serious health problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes.

“People that sleep a little longer might live a little longer,” Calero said. “You could be gaining five to 10 years of life, which is worth more than that half-hour you’re gaining by sleeping less.”

Your memory will be better. Researchers have found that sleep is necessary for memory consolidation. When people get a good night’s sleep after learning new information, they do better on tests than those who didn’t sleep well.

“When you sleep, that’s when you create new memories,” Calero said.

Your heart will be healthier. The most recent development is a study by the American Heart Association that found that sleep disorders may contribute to the risk of heart disease. Much of the research focused on insomnia and sleep apnea, a condition that causes a sleeping person’s breathing to stop momentarily.

The benefits of a good night’s sleep don’t stop there. Researchers say that getting adequate sleep will give you a better mood, better sex life, better pain tolerance, and a lower risk of injury.

People typically sleep 7 to 8 hours a night depending on their age, Calero said. Younger people sleep longer.

He recommended that people who aren’t sleeping well should see a sleep specialist and learn how to improve their sleep.

Best bets: Stick to a regular sleeping schedule, exercise regularly, and limit screen time and caffeine before bedtime.