Ideally, adults should be sleeping around 7 to 8 hours a day while children and adolescents need hour more of sleep to feel good. However, according to the CDC, more than a third of U.S. adults sleep much less than the recommended amount of time. Considering that too little sleep is associated with various health risks, it might not come as surprising that chronic diseases are on the rise in developed countries. On the other hand, longer sleep may not be as unhealthy but it too was associated with some unfavorable health outcomes. Here we explain the consequences of both.
Under-sleeping and the Health Consequences
Short-term sleep deprivation might not compromise your health as much as chronic sleep disorder. However, even one night of poor sleep can lead to accidents and poor judgment. On the other hand, long-term sleep deprivation lasting months and years is associated with an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease as explained in a publication by the Institute of Medicine. The symptoms of sleep loss are excessive daytime sleepiness, mood swings, and poor memory and concentration. The reasons why people lose* sleep are many and range from occupational demands to chronic disease. Some people also suffer from primary insomnia but these constitute only a small portion of sleep-deprived people.
Why Under-sleeping Wreaks Havoc on your Health
The body needs sleep to replenish for the next day. Sleep is also important for normal metabolism functioning as made evident in a study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center. The study included 11 young and healthy men who were sleep-deprived for 6 consecutive nights. What the researchers found was that the men showed symptoms similar to that of type 2 diabetes. Their insulin secretion decreased* to 30% and it took their bodies much longer to regulate blood sugar levels after a carbohydrate-rich meal. The researchers also found that their thyroid stimulating hormone release was below normal level and that the levels of the stress hormone cortisol were higher in these men. What this study suggests is that the health consequences of sleep deprivation are serious and hard to reverse.
Over-sleeping is not that Bad
People may sleep too much when they have certain medical conditions; after a long time of sleep deprivation, or as a result of depression. And although some studies did link sleeping for more than 10 hours a day with obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, a large study on 24671 adults found that this link is controversial. This study which included an exceptionally large sample of people did find a link between excessive sleep and the obesity and depression but not with other chronic diseases. However, the exact health consequences of excessive sleeping as well as the causes are not well understood.
Why too Much Sleep Leads to Depression
Sleep is an important factor in regulating hormones and neurotransmitters such as serotonin which plays a huge role in depressive symptoms. Longer sleep hours may disrupt normal circadian rhythm functioning and this may also disrupt hormonal and neurotransmitter levels, predominantly melatonin. However, if you are worried that you may be sleeping too much, don’t think that sleeping more than the recommended 8 hours means your sleep is abnormal. There is no consensus on what constitutes normal sleep time and this may be highly variable among people. Instead, if you feel refreshed and replenished after sleep, this is a good sign your body is getting just the right amount of sleep.
What to do?
To help you develop a good sleep hygiene, Michael Thorpy, MD, in an article published on the National Sleep Foundation website has offered a couple of simple guidelines for you to try. First, you need to develop a regular sleep schedule. Also, try to avoid napping during the day as this can disrupt the quality of your nighttime sleep. Before bedtime, if you suffer from insomnia, avoid stimulants such as caffeine and don’t eat too large of a meal. If you have trouble with excessive sleeping, making sure you get plenty of sunlight will promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Also, exercising is great not only for sleep for fighting the major causes and consequences of excessive sleep, namely weight gain and depression.
We all know that a balanced diet and lifestyle are important for maintaining good health. The same balance principle is true when it comes to sleep. Too little or too much of the good stuff is bad for your health. However, research shows that the health consequences of sleep deprivation are worse than from too much sleep. Sleep deprivation is also associated with accidents and higher mortality while over-sleeping was found to increase* one’s risk of depression and obesity. Luckily, there are ways to establish a good sleep hygiene that can help you keep you healthy.