In the Nurses’ health study that followed 71,617 women for a decade, those who slept eight hours a night had the lowest risk of developing heart disease. But in another study that followed 84,794 nurses for 24 years, those who slept nine hours or more a night were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as those who slept an average of six hours or less.
Yet far more people, lay people and professionals, are more concerned about lack of sleep than too much, and with good reason. Sleep-deprived people have more accidents and are more likely to fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as during a play or concert or, more seriously, while driving.
Drowsy driving slows reaction time as much as drunk driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatigue leads to 100,000 car crashes and 1,550 automobile deaths annually in the United States. Several automakers, including Subaru, Audi, Mercedes and Volvo, now offer drowsiness detection systems that monitor a car’s movements, such as lane departures, and warn sleeping drivers to take a break.
Sleep deprivation has been a factor in some of the biggest environmental disasters of decades, including the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. in 1989.
The way we sleep can affect how we eat
Although you might expect the opposite, several studies have shown that people who sleep less tend to weigh more than those who sleep longer, even though people expend more calories when awake than when asleep. A study of 990 working adults in rural Iowa found that the less they slept on weeknights, the higher their body mass index tended to be.
A Canadian study of 240 children aged 8 to 17 showed that trying to make up for short weeknights by sleeping longer on weekends was not helpful. Fluctuating sleep times can affect appetite-regulating hormones in ways that cause people to eat when they’re not hungry and to eat beyond the point of satiety. the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study found that people who slept little had low levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that signals people to eat more.
Additionally, attempting to make up for lost weekend sleep has been associated with eating in the absence of hunger or in response to fatigue, as well as being unduly tempted by the sight or smell of food. food. I can attest to a common tendency to eat more – especially snacks of questionable nutritional value – when I lay awake past what should have been a reasonable bedtime.
Promote a good night’s sleep
Experts offer a variety of tips for getting a better night’s sleep. Among them:
Avoid all sources of caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, as well as a large, hearty meal near bedtime.
Practice good sleep hygiene. Go to bed and get up at around the same time every day.
Do not use alcohol to help you relax. Try a hot bath or meditate.
Reading before bed is fine, as long as it’s not on a computer or tablet that emits sleep-inhibiting light.
If outside light interferes with sleep, install light-blocking blinds or curtains or use a sleep mask. If noise is a problem, use earplugs or a white noise machine.
Consider cognitive behavioral therapy, which challenges underlying thoughts or behaviors that may be keeping you up at night.