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How Sleep, Or Lack Of It, Affects Our Health

Having a good night sleep is very important. If you are not sleeping well, or are not rested in the morning, seek help. You may have a sleep disorder that can be treated. Treatment of sleep disorders may help you manage your chronic diseases better, and may improve your health and longevity.

About 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems.

Insufficient sleep is a very common problem. It is so widespread that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have called insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.

A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommends that Adults should sleep 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

Sleeping less than 7 hours per night on a regular basis is associated with adverse health outcomes, including weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, depression, and increased risk of death. Sleeping less than 7 hours per night is also associated with impaired immune function, increased pain, impaired performance, increased errors, and greater risk of accidents.

It is difficult to say what the most important benefit of good sleep is: Good sleep, quality and duration, is necessary to promote optimal health. It improves memory, concentration, performance, mood, and the body's capacity to fight infections.

Sleep quality and quantity is affected by many things. Most common cause for people getting less than adequate quantity of sleep is voluntary sleep deprivation. Because of our busy lifestyles, we are sleeping less and less. Sleep is a vital and necessary body function, and sleep needs (like hunger and thirst) must be met. Quality of sleep is affected by certain sleep disorders causing sleep fragmentation like sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorders. Medical conditions, such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain syndrome, and fibromyalgia affects sleep quality. Also, multiple medications cause sleep fragmentation.

How Does Sleep Deprivation Hurt Us?
Sleep deprivation has significant impact on our functioning and heath. It causes daytime tiredness and sleepiness. It causes lapses in attention and memory, and cognitive slowing. Learning and acquisition of new information is reduced. In fact, 24 hours of constant wakefulness reduces cognitive psychomotor function to a level equivalent with having a blood alcohol level of 0.10.

However chronic sleep deprivation has a huge impact on our body. Chronic lack of sleep causes higher anxiety levels, and higher levels of depression. Sleeping less than 5-6 hours a night increases the risk of having high blood pressure and heart disease. Lack of sleep triggers our stress response, leading to release of stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine which are associated with higher risk for Diabetes. Sleep helps maintain a balance between hormones that make us hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). Lack of sleep causes ghrelin levels to increase and leptin levels to fall. Therefore people are hungrier, have cravings for food and gain weight. Chronic sleep deprivation increases risk for stroke. Sleep deprivation decreases body's immune system and increases the risk of infections.

What are the benefits of sleep medicine?
Sleep medicine is a medical subspecialty devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. Nearly 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders like Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Insomnia, Periodic Limb Movements, Restless Leg Syndrome and Narcolepsy.

A sleep study may involve sleeping overnight in a sleep lab to diagnose various sleep disorders. Most common being sleep apnea. Sometime a Home Sleep Test can be performed to diagnose sleep apnea. Sleep studies can also help diagnose other conditions, such as periodic limb movement disorders and sleep-related movement disorders.

Vikas Batra, MD, is a pulmonologist on the Beebe Medical Staff. He is Board Certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, sleep and critical care medicine. He also is fellowship-trained in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine, and is certified to perform the bronchial thermoplasty procedure. He sees patients at Sussex Pulmonary & Endocrine Consultants in Lewes.