by Henrylito D. Tacio
“Roughly 10 percent of the population suffers from insomnia,” reports Dr Philip S. Chua, a Filipino health columnist writing for a national daily. Insomnia is a condition where a person has difficulty falling asleep or in staying asleep, or has a disturbed sleep pattern causing inadequate sleep. The individual wakes up not rested and feeling tired.
Insomnia is just one of the most common sleep disorders that affect Filipinos. Another is sleep apnea, a condition in which a person literally stops breathing for a minute or so while asleep, marked by loud snoring.
“People who sleep well, in general, are happier and healthier,” said Dr Richard Gelula, chief executive officer of the Sleep Foundation in the United States. “But when sleep is poor or inadequate, people feel tired or fatigued, their social and intimate relationships suffer, work productivity is negatively affected, and they make our roads more dangerous by driving while sleepy and less alert.”
But there’s more to sleeping than what most people think. For instance, sskimping on sleep may make you more vulnerable to obesity. A recent study has shown that people who reported getting less than seven hours of sleep a night were more likely to be obese on initial evaluation. The study also showed that they were also more likely to develop obesity during follow-up.
Participants who slept five hours per night were 73% more likely to become obese than those getting seven to nine nightly hours of sleep, according to Columbia University professor of medicine Steven Heymsfield and Dr James Gangwisch.
Even one hour of sleep can make a difference. People getting six hours of sleep per night were 27% more likely to become obese than those getting seven to nine hours. The lightest sleepers (those with only two to four hours of sleep per night) were 67% more likely to become obese than people who slept for seven to nine hours.
Having lack of sleep or sleeping too much might make you more vulnerable to diabetes. A research conducted in the Yale University bared that men who got little sleep (up to five or six nightly hours) or a lot of sleep (more than eight hours per night) were more likely to develop diabetes than men with moderate amounts of nightly sleep.
“Generally, those at the extremes in sleep duration (up to five hours and more than eight hours of sleep per night) had a worse risk profile in terms of diabetes risk than those who reported seven hours of sleep per night,” said Dr H. Klar Yaggi, one of the researchers who conducted the study.
Meanwhile, women who get too little – or too much – sleep could be damaging their hearts, according to a report based from a major study of the health of nearly 122,000 American nurses.
The report suggests that sleeping five hours a night or less is linked with a higher risk of coronary heart disease. Surprisingly, spending more than the usual eight hours in bed also seems to be bad for you. In a study, women who slept for nine hours or more a night were also at higher risk.
“This research sends an important message to a population that is spending more and more time working and staying up late watching television or using the internet,” said team leader Najib Ayas of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases blood pressure and affects hormone and blood sugar levels, which could have an impact on the heart. A recent report from Harvard University found that women who regularly sleep six hours a night have an 18 percent greater risk of heart attack. For women who sleep just five hours a night, the risk jumps to almost 40 percent. This was a large study involving 70,000 women over a 10-year period.
Men are not spared, though. In a Japanese study from 2001, men who slept five hours or less a night were more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as men who slept eight hours.
How do experts explain this link between sleep and heart disease? Some traced this phenomenon to the inflammation of the arteries, which has been linked to even mild sleep loss. “Our body reacts to sleep loss as if we were attacked by an outside threat, but without the actual presence of one,” clarifies Dr Alexandros Vgontzas, a psychiatrist at Penn State University College of Medicine.
Even moderate sleep loss, as stated earlier, results in “a smoldering, low-burning inflammation.” Over the years, that type of inflammation can damage arteries, leading to hypertension, stroke and heart disease.
A study, which appeared in the ‘Journal of the American Medical Association,’ reports that lack of deep sleep contributes to the aging of males. Sleep, which affects the regulation of growth hormone and cortisol secretion in young adults, decreases in duration and diminishes in quality with normal aging.
In a cross-sectional study of 149 healthy men aged 16 to 83 years, Van Cauter and colleagues found that from early to mid-adulthood, deep slow wave sleep and growth hormone secretion decreased markedly, but total sleep, sleep fragmentation, REM sleep (the portion of sleep when there are rapid eye movements and dreams occur), and cortisol secretion did not change.
From midlife to late life, REM sleep decreased, wake time increased, and nocturnal cortisol release increased. Cortisol is known as stress hormone, which increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system.
Adequate daily sleep should not be considered a luxury, but an important component of a healthy lifestyle. But how much sleep do you really need each day?
“The amount of sleep each person needs depends on many factors, including age,” informs the US Nationnal Institutes of Health. “Infants generally require about 16 hours a day, while teenagers need about nine hours on average. For most adults, seven to eight hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as five hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day. Women in the first three months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual.”
The amount of sleep a person needs also increases if he or she has been deprived of sleep in previous days. “The time it takes for a sleep deficit to accrue depends on how consistent the problem is,” says Dr. Robert Levitan, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. “Missing a couple of hours of sleep every night for a week is probably enough.”
Benjamin Franklin was right: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” – ###