Lack of sleep said to be health time bomb, the “next sugar”

If worry, anxiety, excessive social activity, family responsibilities and/or a demanding work schedule, or any other variable consistently keeps you from sleeping, the price you pay may be steep, according to a report in The Telegraph. “Long-term acting against the clock,” says Professor Russell Foster of Oxford University, “can lead to serious health problems,” including type -2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer.

At first glance, it may be difficult to attribute a potential for serious illnesses to simply not having enough sleep. Keep in mind that each individual has a different sleep requirement, and it doesn’t necessarily fit into the well known adage about getting eight hours. But if your body requires seven hours each night to regenerate, and you’re only getting five, the repercussions can be swift. Studies have indicated that the loss of sufficient sleep for just one night “quadruples your chances of getting a cold.” Dr. Neil Gold, a sleep consultant, says the lack of shut eye “suppresses immunity.” And that’s not all. Other effects include poorer concentration, a slower reaction time, an increase of appetite and even less compassion.

Dr. Sara Gottfried, who admits to being an “under sleeper,” says that the lack of restful sleep “is the next sugar – it’s a health time bomb.” Technology has a large role to play in our society’s sleep deprived state. Artificial lights, LEDs, fluorescent light bulbs, blue lights from computer screens, television screens and other night light devices from “modern living,” says Dr. Gottfried,”have stolen our sleep.”

The sleep cycle is known as the circadian rhythm, and it plays an amazing role in maintaining our health. This process “regulates cell regeneration, brainwave activity, hormone production and the regulation of glucose and insulin levels.” Before society became too modern, people went to bed at sunset and woke up at sunrise. Dr. Gottfried believes that to maintain optimum health, we should return to sleeping like our ancestors did. When sleep is sufficient, says Dr. Gottfried, the brain has the chance to “flush out built up toxins with cerebral spinal fluid.”

She’s not alone in sounding the alarm. Researchers from Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford universities, among other respected institutions, are studying the effects of sleep deprivation. Sleep consultant Dr. Neil Stanley says being deprived of sleep is akin to not having food and water:

“If we deprived ourselves of sleep, we wouldn’t live much longer that if we deprived ourselves of water and five times quicker than if we stopped eating.”

Lack of sleep may also lead to obesity, says Dr. Stanley. Ghrelin is a hormone that tells you you’re hungry. Leptin is a hormone that tells you you’re full. If you don’t get at least six hours of sleep the ghrelin will go up, while the leptin will go down and you can gain weight. “When you’re tired, you’ll feel hungry, but never full.”

Long term sleep loss is serious, as a study from Harvard Medical School aptly demonstrates. For five years, they studied individuals who slept less than five hours each night. These subjects had a “300 percent greater risk of hardened arteries.” Dr. Stanley believes that losing even one, or more, hours of sleep over a long term increases a long list of serious illnesses, including obesity, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, cognitive decline, heart disease and depression.

The long term effects of sleep deprivation are just beginning to be understood. Unfortunately, society at large, says Dr. Stanley, “views getting by on very little [sleep as] a badge of honor.”  But, Dr. Guy Meadows, Clinical Director of the Sleep School, says the opposite is true. He opines that “sleep is the most natural performance enhancer known to mankind. It’s time we started treating it as such.”

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