If you spend countless late nights working when you should be sleeping, your body will soon start to show some negative effects. But poor sleep can do more than just make you feel sluggish during the day and make you look like you’re tired – it can actually take years off of your life. Research says the key lies in how many hours you sleep per night. Those who sleep less than six hours each night are at a greater risk for serious diseases. Here’s what you need to know.
If you’re sleeping less than six hours per night, you could be setting yourself up for coronary heart disease. A lack of sleep can lead to high blood pressure, which is often a warning sign for an impending heart attack or stroke. A study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology found that those who get at least 7 hours of sleep each night (and also eat right and exercise) have a 67 percent lower chance of developing heart disease as compared to their peers who don’t undertake healthy habits like getting enough sleep. That’s a percentage that just cannot be ignored.
Prolonged lack of sleep, or continually sleeping too much, can cause unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels, which can eventually lead to diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, if you sleep less than 6.5 hours per night or more than 7.4 hours, your blood glucose levels can be elevated. These results are based on a Japanese study done in 2013 that set out to determine if sleep duration (whether short or long) could play a role in the development of diabetes. The findings showed that study members who slept 4.5 hours or less, or 8.5 hours or more every night, had higher A1C blood glucose levels than the 6.5-7.4 hour sleepers, and they also had higher BMIs.
Studies are currently underway to see if poor sleep may be linked to a possible cause for Alzheimer’s Disease. Researchers do know that Alzheimer’s disease can disrupt sleep/wake cycles, but they are also trying to determine if the effects of poor sleep work both ways. Alzheimer’s suffers often have difficulty staying asleep at night as well as experience a decrease in dreaming and non-dreaming sleep stages, which doesn’t give their brains a chance to reset. These sleepless nights lead to drowsy days often spent napping, and in extreme cases can lead to a complete reversal of day and nighttime sleeping patterns. For people predisposed to developing Alzheimer’s, getting inadequate sleep might be linked to developing the disease, which can also exacerbate sleep problems.
Scientists are studying a possible correlation between people who do shift work (including odd hours or inconsistent overnight shifts) and the incidence of cancer. The results of a study by the International Journal of Cancer showed that women who did shift work had a 30 percent higher rate of developing breast cancer than women who worked regular hours. Men who did shift work were also found to have a higher incidence of developing prostate cancer. The cause of these developments might be linked back to a disruption in the body’s natural circadian rhythms.
Making sleep a high priority is critical for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Though it may tempting to cut out a few hours of sleep in order to do other things, ultimately the risks to your health outweigh any benefits you might receive from getting fewer hours of shut-eye.