Over-scheduling has become a modern epidemic, driven by a just-in-time economy and a culture of instant gratification that has given rise to a more or less permanent workday. It shouldn’t be shocking, then, that American adults are more sleep-deprived than ever. During crunch time, the calculation seems obvious: you’ll be more efficient if you stay up a little later and get up a little earlier. Unfortunately, more and more studies suggest that shorting yourself on sleep now may lead to health problems down the road. Read on to learn how to improve the quality of your sleep.
Heart to Heart
By all accounts, sleep deprivation is a major source of cardiovascular stress. Even moderate sleep deprivation, defined as six to seven hours of rest per night, can increase your heart attack and stroke risk over a lifetime. If you suffer from interrupted sleep caused by an underlying condition like sleep apnea, the risks are even starker: This pernicious, hard-to-treat condition has been linked to high blood pressure, chronic irregular heartbeat, and coronary artery disease, all of which can lead to future heart attacks and strokes.
Not So Sweet
Getting five or fewer hours of sleep each night may interfere with your body’s ability to process the very food you eat, increasing your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. If you already have the condition, it may become more difficult to control if you’re not getting the proper amount of sleep each night. Luckily, this is one sleep-related problem that’s easily reversed: Your Type 2 diabetes symptoms should decrease in severity as you get more rest.
Sleep deprivation causes plenty of unpleasant short-term problems too. Even a couple days in a row of inadequate or low-quality sleep may depress your immune system and reduce your body’s resistance to infection. Studies suggest that folks who consistently deprive themselves of sleep are vastly more likely to come down with the common cold. While getting a cold isn’t the end of the world, it can reduce your efficiency in the workplace and negate your efforts to get more done by staying awake longer.
Diet and Weight
Inadequate sleep is a recipe for weight gain and obesity. One shocking study revealed that men who slept about four hours per night on two consecutive nights ate almost 600 calories more the next day than otherwise-identical counterparts who slept a full eight hours each night. A separate long-term study found that sleep-deprived middle-aged women were far more likely to experience weight gain of 11 pounds or more over a period of five to seven years.
Getting Better Sleep
Fortunately, sleeping better and longer isn’t rocket science. Healthy adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night, and eight is preferable in most cases. If over-scheduling is a problem, consider cutting back on volunteer duties or time-consuming hobbies and sharing household responsibilities with your spouse. If an underlying condition like sleep apnea is to blame, see a doctor and consider using medication or a special sleep mask to reduce the frequency of sleep interruptions.
Depriving yourself of sleep may seem like an obvious means of increasing your efficiency, but the negative long-term health effects of such behavior should give you pause. Instead, consider a radical option: Lightening up on your schedule.
Sisily West is a full-time writer and blogger living in the Bay Area. She recommends visiting www.fallingasleep.net if you are having trouble Falling Asleep.