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How Sleep Impacts Our Health

by YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region | June 19, 2019, 09:48 AM

By Dr. Gloria Winters

Have you ever tossed and turned all night, willing yourself to sleep, feeling like the world is conspiring against you? If only you could get comfortable and quiet the voices in your head, and the to-do list of job, family, email, and errands. Often, we choose to sacrifice sleep, just to fit everything in. But sleep affects us both mentally and physically. It is vital to our health.

We know that sleep helps us feel rested each day. However, it is not just about feeling rested. While you are sleeping, your brain and body are going through a massive restoration process to get you ready for the following day. 

The National Sleep Foundation says sleep quality and duration should be considered a vital sign, as they are strong indicators of overall health and quality of life. They suggest that extremely long or short sleep durations are associated with more specific conditions, but for many people who are close to getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep, getting just 15 to 30 minutes more sleep a night could make a difference in how you feel. 

We can all agree that when we are tired, we don’t function at our best. Sleep is essential for optimal brain function. Neuroscientists at the National Institute of Health report that sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, intellectual function, alertness and mood. The loss of sleep impairs your higher levels of reasoning, problem-solving and attention to detail. 

Tired people tend to be less productive at work and are at higher risk for traffic accidents. Lack of sleep influences your mood and a significant sleep deficit over time can put you at risk for developing depression. Sleep helps us focus and have quicker reflexes. Research shows that well-rested people operate at a higher cognitive level than people trying to get by on 1 or 2 hours less sleep a night.  

We need appropriate sleep to allow our growth and stress hormones, immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health to be restored. Research shows that a lack of sleep increases the risk for obesity, heart disease and infections. Throughout the night, your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure rise and fall, a process that research is showing may be important for cardiovascular health. Your body releases hormones during sleep that help repair cells and control the body’s use of energy. These hormone changes can affect your body weight.

A good night’s sleep consists of 4 to 5 sleep cycles. Each cycle includes periods of deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. As the duration of sleep continues, the portion of the cycle that is in REM sleep increases. This pattern of cycling and progression is critical to the biology of sleep. Adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Babies require about 16 hours a day. Young children need at least 10 hours of sleep, while teenagers need at least 9 hours. 

Quality of sleep is important in order to maximize the restorative benefits of sleep. Sleep can be disrupted by many things, from stimulants such as caffeine or medications to light from electronics can also prevent you from falling asleep. 

Sleep is often disrupted by illness or pain. Current estimates from the National Institutes of Health report over 70 million Americans of all ages suffer from chronic sleep problems such as insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep), and sleep apnea (typically a loud, uneven snore where breathing repeatedly stops or becomes shallow). 

Sleep is vital to our health. Trouble sleeping can be an indication of a more serious condition, so it is important to take time to analyze your sleep habits and talk to your healthcare provider if you have concerns.

Dr. Gloria Winters is a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in orthopedics and exercise physiology.  She is the Chief Medical Officer for the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region with a focus on healthcare integration in the community. Contact Dr. Winters with questions or topic ideas at [email protected].

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