We've all been there before: puffy eyes, slumped over the coffee pot, rundown after a sleepless night. Maybe you stayed up past your usual bedtime to binge one more episode of your favorite television show. Or maybe anxious thoughts kept you awake while you tossed and turned. Occasionally, it happens. But if you're losing sleep on a regular basis, it could have a bigger impact on your health than you might realize.
How chronic lack of sleep could affect your health
It is common knowledge that not getting enough sleep can affect your mood and performance, leaving you feeling groggy and irritable the next day. However, research suggests that chronic lack of sleep also increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and even depression.¹
This is because sleep is more than just a break in the day for your body to rest. While you're sleeping, your brain is actively working, creating and maintaining neural pathways that help you learn and make memories. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body: brain, heart, lungs, metabolism, immune function, mood and disease resistance.¹
One of the main reasons sleep affects so many different parts of your body and its functions is that your brain increases the production of certain types of hormones while you sleep.² These include the growth hormone that increases muscle mass and repairs cells and tissues, another hormone that boosts your immune system to help keep you from getting sick, and even the hormones that regulate how your body uses calories and carbohydrates for energy throughout the day.² If you do not get enough time in the different stages of rapid eye movement (REM) and non–REM sleep each night, your body misses out on essential processes and hormones that help keep you healthy.²
Sleep also plays an important role in regulating blood pressure. Your blood pressure drops while you're sleeping, so the more hours of sleep you miss each night, the longer your blood pressure stays at a higher level,³ which can increase your risk of high blood pressure, and in turn heart disease and stroke.³
How many hours of sleep should I get each night?
Most adults need at least seven hours of quality sleep each night. The current recommendations for every age group are listed below, but individual needs may vary.
|Age||Hours of sleep|
|Newborns (0–3 months)||14–17|
|Infants (4–11 months)||12–15|
|Toddlers (1–2 years)||11–14|
|School–age children (6–13)||9–11|
|Young adults (18–25)||7–9|
|Older adults (65+)||7–8|
Tips for getting better sleep
Tips for getting better sleep If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, taking some simple steps to improve your sleep hygiene may help. Here are some suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that you can implement immediately:
- Keep a regular schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including weekends.
- Expose yourself to natural light, especially earlier in the day. Try going for a morning or lunchtime walk.
- Avoid artificial light from digital screens, especially within a few hours of bedtime. Use a blue light filter on your computer or smartphone.
- Exercise regularly. Try not to exercise within a few hours of bedtime.
- Avoid drinking or eating within a few hours of bedtime, especially alcohol and foods high in fat or sugar.
- Create an optimal sleeping environment by keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
Getting a good night's rest is not a luxury, it's as essential to your health as eating and breathing. If your sleep doesn't improve after implementing these healthy sleep habits in your daily routine, book an appointment with your provider to discuss the issues you are experiencing. It is possible you could have a sleep disorder—like insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy—or another health condition that is affecting your sleep quality. Your provider can help you manage any problems you may have and discuss any treatment options based on your individual health needs.