Health & Wellness

Sleep Does a Body Good


Even though we’ve all heard over and over again just how important sleep is for us,  many Americans aren’t getting enough zzz’s.  The truth is that despite resounding evidence of how insufficient sleep can be harmful, a large number of still Americans do not routinely get optimal hours of sleep. In fact, it’s estimated that 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep loss or sleep disorders.

We want you to understand that sleep is just as important as nutrition, exercise and stress management. While we sleep at night, we heal and recuperate from the wear and tear of our day. But more and more people find it necessary to cut back on their sleep,  and sometimes the consequences for their health and quality of life can be damaging.

Clinical studies have shown that sleep deprivation can be a contributing factor to a number of lifestyle-related illnesses: obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and increased risk of alcohol and tobacco abuse. Patients with persistent sleep deficits have routinely shown alterations in their metabolism, inhibiting their ability to manage glucose levels by making their cells increasingly insulin resistant and at high risk of developing diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity.

Furthermore, sleeplessness can lead to imbalances in the release of stress hormones, such as Cortisol. Potential consequences are weakening of the immune system, risk of a variety of chronic illnesses as well as psychological effects, such as memory loss, mood swings and depression. Sleep deprivation may also have a significant impact on one’s life expectancy.

Many studies suggest that U.S. adults who usually slept less than six hours are more likely than adults who slept seven to eight hours to engage in certain health risk behaviors, such as cigarette smoking, having five or more drinks in a day, engaging in no leisure-time physical activity, and being obese.

But here’s the good news.  There’s compelling evidence that a healthy sleep routine can contribute greatly to someone’s physical and mental well being as well as the quality of life ingeneral. Getting sufficient sleep ranks among the best defense mechanisms we have to stay healthy and handle our stress. We function and perform at our best when we are well rested.

So, let’s give you the benefits of a good sleep.

Learning and Memory
Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.

Metabolism and Weight
Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.

Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps and road accidents.

Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.

Cardiovascular Health
Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels  and irregular heartbeat.

Sleep deprivation alters immune functionality, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

Written by: Doris X. Muñoz, MD

Dr. Muñoz is the medical director of family medicine / bariatric medicine of the Grady Health System, North Fulton Health Center

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