Nothing feels better than waking up fully refreshed after a good night of sleep. It would be great if each one of us could get the doctor recommended 7 to 8 hours each night, but life often makes that virtually impossible. Between late nights at the office, familial obligations and post-work relaxation we’re lucky to get close that. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation found out that nearly 33% of Americans get less than 6.5 hours of shut-eye per night.
This means that in addition to being unfocused, over-caffeinated, cranky and tired, we are now putting our health at risk as well. Specifically the heart, according to research conducted by Dr. Alexandros Vgontzas which concluded that modest sleep deprivation is associated with low grade inflammation. This inflammation can lead to heart problems.
What exactly is mild sleep deprivation? For the sake of Dr. Vgontzas’ study sleep deprivation was considered 2 hours less sleep than what is recommended. In his study, the 25 participants were deprived of 2 hours of sleep each night for 6 weeks. During the study period the blood levels were measured for cytokines, which are most commonly secreted during infection and inflammation. The participants–both men and women–experienced an increase in the concentration of cytokines. This lead to the conclusion that a lack of sleep, no matter how small, can increase chronic inflammation.
Risks Associated With Inflammation
When most people think of inflammation they often think about inflammation in terms of back or muscle pain, but there is a far more nefarious risk of chronic inflammation: health problems. Studies have shown that chronic inflammation can lead to hypertension (also called high blood pressure), stroke, heart disease, hardening arteries and even cardiac failure.
But even more than that, a lack of a good night’s sleep can cause irregular spikes in blood sugar, which also increase your risk of heart disease for a variety of reasons. Unregulated blood sugar can cause unnecessary snacking, which can lead to weight gain and that is yet another risk for hypertension and heart disease.
How To Get More Sleep
You know how important it is to get enough sleep each night, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. What do you do? Well first you can focus on getting a higher quality of rest each night, which means a restful uninterrupted few hours of sleep. There are healthy ways to do this and unhealthy ways to do this, but ultimately the choice is yours.
Prescription or over the counter sleep aids are usually the first course of action and while they are helpful, they do cause negative side effects that will lead you right back to a poor night of sleep. These effects include:
- Intolerance so you need more and more sleep medicine to get better sleep.
- Addiction which will make it difficult for you to ever sleep without the help of drugs.
- Residual sleepiness means you’re still tired hours after you wake, making you unfocused with slower reaction times that can put you in dangerous situations.
There are many healthy alternatives that allow you to have a more restful sleep each night, without resorting to medical aids. Sleep better at night by:
- Turning off the television 45-60 minutes before bed time to relax your mind.
- Avoid caffeine in the hours leading to bed; this means no coffee or soda.
- Drink herbal tea that features sleep-inducing or relaxation herbs such as green tea and chamomile.
- Avoid computers, cell phones, tablets and e-readers at least 60 minutes before your regular bedtime.
- Try using a sleep mask so outside lights don’t disturb your sleep.
Sufficient and high quality sleep to improve health, particularly heart health, is quickly gaining consensus in the medical community. It is up to you to make an effort to get not just a good night’s sleep, but a quality and restful sleep as well.