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Is Lack of Sleep Hurting Your Health?

Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of “The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free ...Read More

Do you get enough sleep? Or are you kept up at night, checking email, working, reading, watching TV, surfing the net, worrying or struggling with insomnia or some other sleep disorder?

In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 50 million adults reported that they had difficulty concentrating as a result of sleep problems.

Lack of sleep is connected with car accidents, industrial disasters, medical errors and other work related errors. But, beyond simply causing us to lose focus, make mistakes or nod off at a crucial moment, lack of sleep is now known to be connected to other health issues.

Psychological treatments, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy, have identified sleep as fundamental to maintaining our mental health. Sleep, like diet and exercise, has a critical impact on how we feel. When sleep is out of balance, we are more likely to experience intense and extreme emotions and are more vulnerable to stress and more sensitive to physical pain.

In a 2005 study, researches found that study participants who slept less had lower levels of optimism and were less social, even if they didn’t feel tired.

If you’re one of the 41 million American workers who gets less than 6 hours of sleep a night, you may also be disrupting key aspects of your physical health. According to a report in the Monitor on Psychology, a large body or research shows far-reaching consequences to too little sleep.

Too little sleep disrupts physical health, including, hormone regulation, glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, inflammation processes, pain perception and immune function.

Let’s take a closer look at the connection between hormone regulation and sleep deprivation. In a 1999 study, looking at partial sleep loss-that is chronically cutting your sleep short for just an hour or two a night-researchers found that levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates hunger and appetite, dropped 19 percent with sleep loss.

This study spawned further research that confirmed the connection between partial sleep loss, hormone regulation and the role of sleep in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In 2012, researcher Kristen Knutson, PhD found an association between short sleep-less than 6 hours a night-and obesity and higher body mass index. Her findings showed children and adolescents as particularly vulnerable to the health consequences of lost sleep.

Studies continue to find links between lack of sleep, eating unhealthy snacks, and simply consuming more calories. And in a recent study researchers found that fat cells in people who don’t get enough sleep have a 30 percent reduced ability to respond to insulin.

So what can you do, if you’re not getting enough sleep? Some tips from the National Sleep Foundation include:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
  • Set up a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, which might include activities such as taking a hot bath, reading a book or listening to soothing music.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress in a room that is dark, quiet and cool.
  • Use your bed for sleep; keep televisions and computers out of the bedroom.
  • Finish eating several hours before sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly, early in the day. Exercising too close to bed will make you more alert.
  • If you continue to have sleep problems, consider keeping a record of your sleep experiences and talking to your doctor.

The physical symptoms of sleep loss are alarming, but fortunately, these processes appear to be reversible. Just one extra hour of sleep can improve your body’s ability to function.

Keep Reading By Author Christy Matta, M.A.
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