There are lots of ways to stay healthy. You can exercise. You can eat healthy foods. You can take vitamins. But one of the best ways to stay healthy is also one of the easiest. All you have to do is get a good night's sleep.
But for many people, getting a good night's sleep is harder than it sounds.
Your health can pay a price by not sleeping enough or not sleeping well. When you regularly don't sleep well, it's called sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation can affect your health, performance, safety, and pocketbook.
There are many causes of sleep deprivation. The stresses of daily life may get in the way of a good night's sleep. Some of us may not go to sleep so we can work or play longer.
You may even have physical or mental-health problems that hurt your sleep. But many times sleep deprivation is often caused by a sleep disorder. A sleep disorder is any disturbance in your normal sleep pattern.
After a typical night's sleep, you may not feel restored and refreshed like normal. As a result, you may be sleepy during the day. In these cases, you may be sleep-deprived or have a sleep disorder.
You might think you're tired because of the stress of work or the kids. You might tell yourself that you have always felt this way. The fact is, you may have a sleep disorder and you don't know it. You have no idea that you should feel differently. This lack of awareness makes things worse. Many people go for years not knowing they have a sleep problem.
Not sleeping is a national problem
Sleep disorders are more common than you think. There are more than 85 sleep disorders named by the American Sleep Disorders Association. These problems affect more than 70 million Americans. Up to one-third of Americans have symptoms of insomnia. Insomnia is a condition in which people have difficulty falling asleep. Doctors identify less than 10 percent of people with insomnia.
Breathing problems represent a range of sleep problems. These include anything from simple snoring to sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is repeated times when you stop breathing during sleep.
As common as they are, most sleep problems are ignored or not treated.
What happens to your body when you don't sleep well?
WebMD.com has a list of problems that can happen if you don't get enough sleep. These can help you learn if you have a sleep problem. Some of the effects of sleep deprivation or disorders are:
Decreased Performance and Alertness
Sleep deprivation can make you less alert and reduce your regular performance. For example, say you get one and a half hours less sleep during one night. It can make you 32 percent less alert the next day.
Being less alert and sleepier during the day can hurt your memory, too. You also lose some of your ability to think and process information.
You can disturb your bed partner's sleep due to your sleep disorder. This may cause problems in your relationship. For example, you may have to sleep in separate bedrooms, or you may argue more.
Poor Quality of Life
You might start staying away from activities that need a lot of attention. These activities include going to the movies, seeing a school play, or watching TV.
Not getting enough sleep makes you twice as likely to get hurt on the job.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that each year, drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes. These result in 71,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities.
The above list only shows short-term problems with not getting enough sleep. There are other, more serious long-term problems that can occur.
For example, HealthCentral.com lists the following health issues:
High blood pressure and other health problems
Your body can sense when it's not getting enough sleep. When you don't get enough sleep, stress hormones are released in your body. Hormones are chemicals released in your body.
One of the hormones released when you don't get enough sleep is adrenaline. These hormones help regulate the body's blood pressure. So, when too many hormones are released, your blood pressure could be harder to control. Having high blood pressure could cause heart disease.
In addition, lack of sleep can affect our body's ability to control sugar levels. Sugars give our bodies the fuel we need to go about our daily lives. But not getting enough sleep can change the way our bodies control sugar. This can lead to diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that produces too many sugars in our bodies. Having diabetes also increases the risk of heart disease.
Immune function and your ability to fight sickness
You may have noticed this happening to you. You go through a period of high stress and sleep loss. This could be a deadline at the office or finals in school. Then, you get a cold or other infection. This may not be a coincidence. Our immune system helps our bodies fight germs. But our immune system is weaker when we are not getting enough sleep.
When we get a good night's sleep, our aches and pains seem to improve. One reason could be that extra sleep gives our bodies extra time to repair. But there's some new research that says there may be another reason. This research says that when we don't get enough sleep, our pain is more intense.
Sleep loss may also be a factor that leads you to obesity. Dr. Michael Thorpy, is director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center. The Center is located at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. He says that any American who wants to lose weight should also get more sleep.
Sleep disorders also affect teens
Msnbc.com reports that when teenagers don't get enough sleep, it can cause serious problems. Two-thirds of U.S. teenagers get less than eight hours of sleep on school nights. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a study on teens and found that teens who sleep less are more likely to smoke, drink, and fight.
Another survey did research on more than 12,000 teens. In that study, 68.9 percent said they slept less than eight hours on school nights. In 10 of 11 categories, those students were more likely to engage in risky acts. Those acts include smoking cigarettes and marijuana and drinking alcohol. For example, 50.3 percent of students who slept less than eight hours reported drinking alcohol. That number compares to 36.7 percent of those who slept more than eight hours.
Students who slept fewer hours also were less likely to exercise. They were also more sexually active. Plus, they were more likely to fight and think about suicide. They were more likely to use computers more than three hours a day as well.
Sleep-deprived teens did not watch more television than students with regular sleep.
Preventive Medicine published this study online. It is believed to be the first large national survey of its kind. "I definitely wouldn't ignore it," said Lela McKnight-Eily, a clinical psychologist at the CDC. It is important for parents and children to be aware of these issues.
Just sleep on it.
There is good news for many people who don't get enough sleep. Many of the problems that cause sleep deprivation can be treated. Some can even be cured. See your doctor or health professional and ask for a risk assessment. Or, ask for information on sleep deprivation. Once you start sleeping well again, many of the possible health dangers go away.