The importance of sleep on your physical well-being
Some people believe they need less sleep than the average person. While
this may earn you bragging rights, it’s not good for your health.
Sleep is not just the absence of being awake; it’s an active process
that promotes good cognitive and physical health.
While you’re sleeping, your body is doing important work, such as
forming pathways in your brain that help you learn and create memories
and removing toxins that accumulate while you’re awake. Sleep also
helps your body support your immune system, repair cells and tissues and
maintain a healthy balance of hormones.
Zzzzzs…How Many Do You Really Need?
It depends on your age, of course, but in general, adults need at least
seven hours of sleep daily. Children need more. In fact, newborns sleep
up to 17 hours a day. And your teenager—the one who seems to sleep
the day away? He really does need 8 to 10 hours of sleep to support his
Sleep Is Important…and We’re Not Getting Enough
Sleep deprivation is a serious public health problem. Roughly one out of
three adults does not get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Insufficient
sleep can affect all aspects of your life and raise your risk for serious
disease. It can even be deadly. Here are a few ways sleep deprivation
can be harmful.
Heart disease. Sleep helps your body repair the wear and tear on your heart and blood
vessels. When you don’t get enough sleep, it raises your risk for
heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
Diabetes. Lack of sleep can lead to higher-than-normal blood glucose (sugar) levels,
increasing your risk for type 2 diabetes, which, in turn, raises your
risk for heart disease.
Immune dysfunction. Without a robust immune system, you can’t properly fight infection
and prevent disease, and without adequate sleep, your immune system can’t
do its job.
Obesity. Sleep deficiency can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for heart
disease, diabetes and sleep apnea which also raises your risk for heart
disease and diabetes.
Injury and accidents. Sleep deprivation can lead to deadly accidents and mistakes. Driver sleepiness
plays a role in about 100,000 car accidents each year. Furthermore, several
national catastrophes, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Three
Mile Island nuclear accident and the Challenger spaceship explosion are
all attributed, at least in part, to sleep deprivation.
Unfortunately, sleep disorders are common. However, they are also very
treatable once you are correctly diagnosed. The most common sleep disorders
are insomnia and sleep apnea.
Insomnia. Insomnia—the inability to fall, or stay, asleep—is the most
common sleep problem in those 60 and older. Treatments for insomnia include
nonmedical approaches (for example, cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation
training) as well as medications.
Sleep apnea. If you snore and make gasping or choking noises during sleep, you may
have obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which you momentarily stop
breathing—sometimes many times per night—because of blocked
airways. Nearly 24 million Americans have sleep apnea, many of them undiagnosed.
People with sleep apnea wake up feeling tired and struggle with fatigue
and difficulty concentrating. Once properly diagnosed, sleep apnea is
The bottom line: Don’t compromise your health! If you have trouble
sleeping, talk to your primary care provider, who may refer you to a board-certified
sleep specialist (a doctor with special training in sleep disorders) or
recommend an in-lab or at-home sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea. Dr.
Ngongmon and Dr. Manzlak from
Mary Washington Medical Group Sleep Medicine can help diagnose a sleep
Learn more here.