Is your lack of sleep affecting your health?

man sleeping

Many myths exist when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. One being that we need less sleep as we grow older or that anyone who has difficulty sleeping must be suffering from insomnia.

But perhaps the biggest myth is that we sleep solely to rest our bodies.

In reality, though, a lack of quality sleep can lead to depression, high-blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, grumpy moods, lowered testosterone and even weight gain.

“Yes, when we sleep we rest a tired body,” said Dr. Kurtis Kieleszewski, a family medicine physician with McLaren Macomb who has extensively studied the benefits of sleep. “But there is so much more we get from solid sleep, one being that the brain locks into memory what we’ve learned during the day and re-builds energy stores. We are really undervaluing the importance of a full night’s sleep.”

How much sleep do we need?

The vast majority of the population requires seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Without it, our bodies do not function at full capacity.

There are five stages of sleep—first four allowing the mind to consolidate memories, transitioning them from recent to long-term memories, while the fifth is the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle. This all important stage is the one in which we dream, and a lack of REM sleep diminishes our disposition, increasing anxiety, irritability and difficulty in concentrating.

“Everybody has more than likely experienced this,” Dr. Kieleszewski said. “We’re walking a step behind everyone and can’t quite remember an answer when called upon. Ask us what’s wrong and more often than not, our answer is we didn’t sleep too well last night.”

What could be hindering my quality sleep?

Depression and anxiety factor into the duration and quality of sleep we get. Insomnia and sleep apnea, which affects millions of Americans, also play a significant role, along with certain medications and changes in hours at work.

Also, eating late at night, eating the wrong sorts of foods (sweets and acidic foods) and encountering too much stimulation in the evening or not being active enough during the day can also play a factor in the quality of sleep that night.

“There is not just one factor, whether it be clinical or behavioral, that leads to poor sleep,” Dr. Kieleszewski said. “The one true thing, though, is that it can always be remedied. Practicing proper sleep hygiene is paramount, and is the first topic that I have to address in my patients when we discuss sleep problems or diminished overall health.”

Limiting the kinds of foods — and how much — you eat later in the day and evening, getting moderate exercise during the day, relaxing with limited stimuli before bed and setting a proper mood in the bedroom will all aid in getting better quality, more beneficial sleep.

However, if that still doesn’t do it, making an appointment with your doctor to talk about your concerns will help medically treat any remaining issues.