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Four New Reasons You Should Be Getting Ample Sleep

Most of us are not getting enough sleep

We yearn for it. We yawn about it. But most of us are not getting enough sleep.

In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has deemed the decline of sleep in America a public health epidemic.

A man yawning at his desk

According to a recent CDC study, in the years from 1985 to 2012 the daily sleep duration for Americans decreased overall. The study noted that the number of Americans getting an average of six hours or less of sleep within a 24-hour period actually doubled during that time period.

It’s concerning that sleep in America is experiencing a downward spiral because it can impact our health, safety and mindset. We have identified the connection between lack of sleep and some illnesses and hazards for many years, but some associations are just being uncovered. Here are a few recent findings on the impact of sleep that might surprise you.

  1. Sleep deprivation (and inundation) can cause depression.

    A 2014 American Academy of Sleep study of twins noted that both short (less than 6 hours per night) and excessively long (more than 10 hours per night) sleep durations appear to activate genes related to depressive symptoms. The study noted that the occurrence of inherited depression nearly doubled in those getting too much or too little sleep.
  1. Unsatisfactory sleep may cause dementia.

    The brain cycles through five stages during sleep. REM sleep should make up about 25 percent of your overall night of sleep; and it is during this fifth sleep cycle that dreams typically occur. According to a study published in 2017 by the American Academy of Neurology, reduced REM sleep is a good predictor of future dementia. A 2014 University of Toronto study also determined a great association between adults with REM sleep disorder—a syndrome which causes patients to act out their dreams—and eventual Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
  1. Sleep can age your heart.

    Excessive heart age (EHA), a risk calculator for stroke and heart attack, has been shown to increase with inadequate sleep. The highest elevation in excessive heart age was displayed in those who sleep an average of less than seven hours per night, but sleep inundation also had a negative effect on the cardiovascular system. Numerous studies have shown that an undersupply of sleep can affect the heart and increase the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, heart attack and premature death. It is believed that sufficient sleep promotes biological processes that help balance metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation, which all impact the cardiovascular system.
  1. Scarce sleep can affect your memory.

    Our body may be at rest, but our brain is actively collecting and storing memories, as well as cleansing out unneeded information, while we sleep. Research has shown that improper sleep influences problem solving, staying on task and information retention, including acquiring positive memories. According to a 2010 Harvard study, dreaming during REM sleep was shown to help the brain organize recently learned material and therefore improve memory and performance.

How to achieve good quality sleep

The problem is that most adults do not know how to get a good night’s sleep. Healthy sleep takes preparation, here are a few tips:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night
  • Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep
  • Don’t fall asleep to a screen, like your phone or television
  • Eat a light evening meal
  • Do not exercise directly before bed

If you snore, notice breathing issues while you are sleeping or simply have trouble comfortably getting the recommended amount of sleep, I recommend seeing a physician who specializes in sleep. There are many options for patients who need better quality sleep. You don’t have to suffer through restless nights.

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Dr. Soham Sheth is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine physician. He is on the medical staff at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center and works with the Sleep Center at Chesapeake.

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