Sleep is good for you. So what happens when age-old culprits like insomnia or sleep apnea—or newer ones like a jam-packed schedule—cause you to lose sleep? That’s right, they may affect your health—particularly your heart.
“When you’re sleeping you’re regulating hormone levels, you’re regulating insulin levels, your blood pressure is being kept under control, there are a lot of things going on, and if you’re not getting enough sleep you’re throwing these things out of whack,” says Shelby Freedman Harris, PsyD, director of behavioral sleep medicine at Montefiore Medical Centers Sleep-Wake Disorders Center in New York City.
Far from being a time-wasting, 8-hour sentence in a useless void, the research says that, sleep is crucial for good health. It helps memory and mood, keeps you trim, strengthens your immune system, fights inflammation, and keeps your heart and blood vessels in good shape. While you’re snoozing, the body repairs damaged tissue, produces crucial hormones, and strengthens memories—a process called consolidation, which helps you perform a new skill better after sleeping than you would if you spent an equivalent amount of time awake. (Take that, all-nighters!)
“It’s a way for the body to integrate everything that happened over the past waking day and to kind of prepare for the next day,” says Virend K. Somers, MD, a professor of medicine and cardiovascular diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who studies sleep and heart health.
Hopefully, you’re convinced that sleep is good for you. So what happens when age-old culprits like insomnia or sleep apnea—or newer ones like a jam-packed schedule—cause you to chronically lose sleep? That’s right, they may affect your health—particularly your heart.
According to sleep specialists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, among others, a number of bodily systems are negatively affected by inadequate sleep: the heart, lungs and kidneys; appetite, metabolism and weight control; immune function and disease resistance; sensitivity to pain; reaction time; mood; and brain function.
During sleep, the body produces cytokines, cellular hormones that help fight infections. Thus, short sleepers may be more susceptible to everyday infections like colds and flu. In a study of 153 healthy men and women, Sheldon Cohen and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University found that those who slept less than seven hours a night were three times as likely to develop cold symptoms when exposed to a cold-causing virus than were people who slept eight or more hours.
Some of the most insidious effects of too little sleep involve mental processes like learning, memory, judgement and problem-solving. During sleep, new learning and memory pathways become encoded in the brain, and adequate sleep is necessary for those pathways to work optimally. People who are well rested are better able to learn a task and more likely to remember what they learned. The cognitive decline that so often accompanies aging may in part result from chronically poor sleep.
Therefore, my dear insomniacs – don’t try to cheat sleep. This relationship between you and your sleep can make you look good, feel good and thereby, helping you realise you have the best relationship with yourself!