Health Benefits of Sleep

— Written By and last updated by photo by kinga-cichewicz-5NzOfwXoH88-unsplash

On the surface, it seems like the seasonal transition from summer to fall provides all the best ingredients for a great sleep environment. For example, darkness comes quicker and lasts longer, making the need for blackout blinds and sleeping masks pretty much obsolete, and the cooler temps make slipping under a fluffy duvet all that more inviting. But according to sleep doctors, the change in seasons can affect sleep by posing challenges that make drifting off and staying asleep more difficult.

A third of US adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep. Not getting enough sleep is linked with many chronic diseases and conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression— that threaten our nation’s health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to motor vehicle crashes and mistakes at work, which cause a lot of injury and disability each year. Getting enough sleep is not a luxury—it is something people need for good health. Sleep disorders can also increase a person’s risk of health problems. However, these disorders can be diagnosed and treated, bringing relief to those who suffer from them.

Diabetes

Research has found that insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk for the development of type 2 diabetes. Specifically, sleep duration and quality have emerged as predictors of levels of Hemoglobin A1c, an important marker of blood sugar control. Recent research suggests that optimizing sleep duration and quality may be important means of improving blood sugar control in persons with type 2 diabetes.

Cardiovascular Disease

Persons with sleep apnea have been found to be at increased risk for a number of cardiovascular diseases. Notably, hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease and irregular heartbeats (cardiac arrhythmias) have been found to be more common among those with disordered sleep than their peers without sleep abnormalities. Likewise, sleep apnea and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) appear to share some common physiological characteristics, further suggesting that sleep apnea may be an important predictor of cardiovascular disease.

Obesity

Laboratory research has found that short sleep duration results in metabolic changes that may be linked to obesity. Epidemiologic studies conducted in the community have also revealed an association between short sleep duration and excess body weight. This association has been reported in all age groups—but has been particularly pronounced in children. It is believed that sleep in childhood and adolescence is particularly important for brain development and that insufficient sleep in youngsters may adversely affect the function of a region of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite and the expenditure of energy.

Depression

The relationship between sleep and depression is complex. While sleep disturbance has long been held to be an important symptom of depression, recent research has indicated that depressive symptoms may decrease once sleep apnea has been effectively treated and sufficient sleep restored. The interrelatedness of sleep and depression suggests it is important that the sleep sufficiency of persons with depression be assessed and that symptoms of depression be monitored among persons with a sleep disorder.

Tips for Better Sleep

Good sleep habits (sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene”) can help you get a good night’s sleep.

Some habits that can improve your sleep health:

  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
  • Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

References: Well + Good website, Center for Disease Control (CDC)

For more information on food safety, health, and nutrition topics please contact N.C. Cooperative Extension, Franklin County Center at 919-496-3344 or Dominque Simon, Commercial and Family & Consumer Science Extension Agent, at dominque_simon@ncsu.edu.