Sleeping For Better Health

Not getting enough sleep at night can kill you. So can getting too much. Your body is calibrated to function at its best with just enough sleep. Otherwise, you risk health disaster.

Sleep Numbers

In today’s world we seem to be obsessed with numbers. We use numbers to analyze and regulate every aspect of our bodies and our lives. How tall are you? How much do you weigh? What are your cholesterol numbers? What is your blood pressure? How many ounces of carbs does your diet allow? What’s your income? The numbers go on and on. In this list, there’s one number most of us get wrong: How much sleep do you need?

Lucky Number Seven

While it is often assumed and promoted as firm rule that getting eight hours of sleep per night is optimal, research questions this assumption. In 2010, the journal Sleep published a study that identified seven hours as being the optimal amount of sleep for health. In fact, according to Najib Ayas, M.D., of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, the study showed that those who sleep more or less than seven hours per night are at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease. That means everyone who is sleeping the standard eight hours of sleep per night is unwittingly increasing their risk for heart problems.

There’s No Catching Up

Another sleep fallacy is that you should sleep more on the weekends to catch up on missed sleep throughout the work week. To the contrary: Sleep experts tell us that sleeping more than eight hours is unhealthy. The body does not catch up on its sleep because sleep is not cumulative. You need seven hours of deep, sound sleep. When you break up sleep with naps or pile sleep on at the end of the week, you end up with headaches, stiff joints, muscle aches and often dizziness. And, by sleeping more than seven hours at a time (during the so-called catch up days), you also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Too Little Sleep Makes Disease Risk Bigger

Cardiovascular disease is not the only ailment associated with poor sleep. Getting only six or fewer hours per night is linked with diabetes and obesity. The link to obesity was studied and published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) and in a recent Mayo Clinic study.

The JCEM article showed that hunger is increased by lack of sleep when the brain’s appetite-control center is activated. The Mayo Clinic findings showed that if you sleep about 80 minutes less than normal, you’re at risk for eating about 550 more calories the next day. Leptin and ghrelin hormones are thought to be responsible for this effect.

“We tested whether lack of sleep altered the levels of the hormones leptin and ghrelin, increased the amount of food people ate and affected energy burned through activity,” says Virend Somers, Mayo Clinic professor and lead author. According to study co-author Andrew Calvin, “Sleep deprivation is a growing problem, with 28 percent of adults now reporting that they get six or fewer hours of sleep per night.”

Simple Sleep Solutions

Whether you suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea or an overly busy schedule, it is imperative that you get ample sleep each and every night. Seven hours seems to be the magic number. But repetition of the same bedtime night after night is crucial. In other words: Keep a constant sleep routine.

Here are tips to help you hit the sleep sweet spot and establish a healthy habit that my enable you to live longer, healthier and happier without heart disease, diabetes or obesity:

  • Better manage your time during the day so you don’t work late into the evening.
  • Make a list at the end of the workday of what needs to be accomplished or started tomorrow. Don’t obsess over tomorrow’s tasks while lying awake in bed.
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages after 6 p.m., or they may keep you awake.
  • Do not drink fluids of any kind after 8 p.m. if you have a weak or overactive bladder.
  • Avoid alcohol at night; it disturbs crucial REM sleep.
  • Waking up in the middle of the night for any reason is not healthy.
  • Help yourself drift into deep sleep by making your sleeping environment as dark as possible. Block incoming light with heavy curtains. Dim the light from electronic devices and keep lit alarm clocks facing away from your bed.
  • Set a schedule for sleeping and waking up and stick to it. Repetition makes your body clock stick to a schedule that promotes proper sleep.

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Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.