Lack of Sleep: A Public Health Epidemic

Getting decent sleep at night is a key part of a healthy lifestyle and can benefit your heart, weight and mind. It’s important to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night because lack of sleep can affect your health, looks and even your ability to lose weight. When you don’t get enough sleep at night, it doesn’t just make you cranky in the morning, but it can also lead to serious long term health risks.

Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and premature aging. Research indicates that people who get six or less hours of sleep a night have higher levels of inflammatory proteins in their blood than those who get more hours of sleep a night.

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Lack of sleep can suppress your immune system, which makes you vulnerable to infections. During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation or when you’re under stress. In addition, infection fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.

Many people have experienced sickly, yellow skin and puffy eyes as a result of missing a few nights of sleep. It turns out that chronic sleep loss can also lead to lackluster skin, fine lines and dark circles under the eyes.

When you don’t get enough sleep your body releases more stress hormones. In excess amounts, this hormone can break down skin collagen, the protein that keep skin smooth and elastic.

Many of us try to sleep as little as possible. While so many things seem more interesting or important than getting a few more hours of sleep, just like exercise and nutrition are vital to staying healthy, so is getting the good night’s rest.

Listening To Your Internal Clock

The responsibilities and stresses of life have an incredible impact on our physical bodies. Over time, that impact can manifest itself in many ways that adversely affects our physical well being. The human body can only take so much before it needs to rest and recuperate. Most of us are aware of the need for sleep but many do not know just how much the body requires it.

As a matter of fact, the human brain is equipped with a specific mechanism to regulate what is known as our internal clock. The clinical term for this clock is the “circadian rhythm”. This biological mechanism is what regulates and controls our body’s daily routines and physical patterns like blood pressure, body temperature, and hormone release. Our need for sleep is also regulated by this internal clock and our ability (or willingness) to follow this clock is a huge part of our sleep patterns and overall health.

Our circadian rhythm is set when we’re infants; normally within the first few months of life. It is during this early stage of our lives that we develop our sleep schedule. Most Americans are “programmed” to sleep between midnight and dawn and a somewhat diminished interval in the afternoon. Anyone who has tried to stay awake all night can testify to the body’s reaction to that decision. Whether you sleep the day before or not, there is an inherent need within the body to sleep at night and that need is dictated by your internal clock.

While the clock can be reset to a different time (for example, for night shift work), most people find the transition to be (at best) unsettling and (at worst) impairing. While most can eventually change their sleeping patterns, the need for sleep at specific times is so rudimentary to our existence that we can feel the negative effects of that change for years.

Why is this circadian rhythm so important? Ignoring your body’s need for sleep should be an obvious problem. Without regular sleep intervals, our bodies will make the need for rest known in many forms of sleep disorders. Sleep studies have shown our circadian rhythm sleep patterns go a long way toward correcting, if not outright preventing, many of the sleep disorders that plague us. In other words, it’s not just important that you get some sleep; you need to sleep when the body is telling you to sleep. While there are times in our lives that the clock has to be ignored, habitually hitting the “snooze” on your internal clock has never ended well. That gentle head-bob while driving at night can quickly become a tragic incident if ignored for too long. Taking over-the-counter remedies for drowsiness like energy drinks, coffee, or legal amphetamines (like “No-Doze”) can delay the body’s need for sleep, but sooner or later, the rhythm is gonna get ya.

So, listen to your body. Anyone who has been deprived of sleep can testify there’s nothing that can recharge the batteries and reboot the brain like a good night’s sleep.