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Sleeping: How Much Do You Really Need?

by Institute for Vibrant Living

As a general life rule, either too much indulgence or too much restriction of virtually anything that is considered “good”—even essential—usually leads to problems. Sleep is a perfect example. Sleeping too few or too many hours can create a serious and negative impact on your health. These less than optimal amounts of sleep is associated with premature aging, increased mortality, and a higher incidence of disease including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer. 

Trouble sleeping?  Check out these gentle, natural approaches to help you get the full benefit of a healthful, restful night’s sleep.

The magic number of hours for sleep appears to be seven to eight hours.  In a study published in the journal Sleep in August 2010, and conducted by researchers at the West Virginia University’s faculty of medicine, study participants who slept fewer than five hours a day including naps, had more than double the risk of angina, coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and stroke. Those who slept more than seven hours also had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The participates who slept nine hours or longer were one-and-a-half times more likely than seven-hour sleepers to develop the disease.

A study published in The Journal of Sleep Research in 2009, looked at the association between sleep duration and all-cause and cause-specific mortality.  Researchers found a statistically significant increase in all-cause mortality, especially of cardiovascular disease and cancer in those who slept either too many or too few hours.  In another study conducted by UCSD and published in 2002, researchers found a 15% increased risk of mortality in those who slept more than 8.5 hours or less than 4.5 hours.

Too Little is Too Big of a Problem

How big of a problem is disrupted sleep in America? According to a study published in 2006, fifty- to seventy-million Americans chronically suffer from sleep disorders that hinder daily functioning and adversely affect health and longevity. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll of Americans and the majority (63%) said they do not get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. Nearly one third (31%) reported sleeping less than seven hours a night. One in five adults stated that they were so sleepy during the day that it interfered with their daily activities. Seven in ten adults (69%) said they experience frequent sleep problems.

Chronic Disease and Accelerated Aging

A Harvard University study published in 2010 followed 56,000 U.S. adults and found that sleeping less than seven hours a night increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Another study published in the journal Lancet in October 1999 found several biological signs of “accelerated” aging in healthy young men after they slept only four hours per night for one week. Those signs included changes in their glucose and stress hormone (cortisol) levels compared to that typically seen in middle age. According to researchers, the physiological changes observed in the sleep deprived young men could predispose them to diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and memory loss.  

Related:  Link Between Sleep and Inflammation

Sleeping at the Correct Times

As important as the number of hours you sleep is to your health and longevity, the exact times that you go to sleep and wake up is equally important. Staying up late or working the night shift, even if you get seven or eight hours of sleep, has a significant deleterious effect on various hormone levels and inflammatory markers. Sleeping at the “wrong” times increases your risk of the same chronic diseases associated with sleeping too few hours: diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, depression and cancer—especially breast, prostate, endometrial and colorectal cancers. For example, a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism in August 2010 found that staying up until 2 a.m. upset the body’s internal clock and caused fatty acids in the blood, called triglycerides, to become abnormally high. High triglycerides are known to increase the risk of heart disease.

In another study, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonia, Texas, reported that epidemiological studies find an increase of breast, prostate, endometrial and colon cancer in individuals who work at night or whose circadian rhythms had been disrupted for other reasons. Disruption of the normal circadian rhythms has also been associated with poor pregnancy outcomes (Mosendane et al 2008). In contrast, going to bed before 10 p.m. and getting up by 6 a.m. can reduce your risk of all of these conditions by as much as fifty percent.

15 Tips for Better Sleep:

  1. Eat three nutritious meals a day. The evening meal should be light and early. 
  2. Exercise regularly, preferably early in the morning. If you exercise in the late evening, it may keep you awake.
  3. Go to sleep by 10 p.m.
  4. Eliminate or severely restrict stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol.
  5. Wear comfortable clothing to bed.
  6. Avoid spicy foods at the evening meal. 
  7. Do not bring work-related material into the bedroom and turn off the television, and avoid the news or negative information.
  8. Keep your bedroom dark.
  9. A gentle massage of the hands, feet, and neck before sleeping can aid in relaxation.
  10.  Stress can definitely interfere with sleep. So practicing an effective stress reducing technique such as Transcendental Meditation, Qi Gong, or yoga can be very beneficial.
  11.  Make sure that your room is dark. If you can’t make it completely dark, wear a comfortable eye mask. It can also be helpful to keep your room quiet and cool.
  12.  Avoid alcohol. Alcohol interferes with the sleep hormone melatonin. Alcohol may seem to help you fall asleep, but it can also cause you to wake up in the middle of night.
  13.  Listen to soothing music before going to sleep. According to a 2005 study conducted by Marion Good Ph.D., R.N., at Case Western Reserve University, listening to soothing music for 45 minutes in bed improved subjects sleep quality by an average of 35% over a three week period.
  14.  Take a warm bath in the evening. A 1999 study published in The European Journal of Applied Physiology found that a ten minute evening bath helped the elderly to sleep better.
  15.  Don’t bring your electrical devices into the bedroom. The electromagnetic frequencies they produce can disrupt the flow of melatonin. Shut off your cell phone, Wi-Fi, and any other electrical devices in or near the room where you sleep. Don’t use an electric blanket (or at least unplug it before you go to sleep.) Choose a battery operated alarm clock instead of an electrically powered clock radio.

If you have trouble sleeping, please try all the gentle, natural approaches presented above, rather than using pharmaceutical medications which can disrupt the full health-producing benefits available in sleep. You may also want to create a ritual that is most relaxing for you—one that best prepares you to ease into this extraordinarily powerful, health-promoting, sublime activity. Soothing music, warm baths, gentle massages, perhaps reading an uplifting book or hearing the calming voice of an enjoyable book on tape, or simply being in quiet meditation or prayer, you may find is the perfect approach that consistently and magically lulls you to health-giving, life-enhancing sleep.         

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