Why it matters, and what you should do

Approximately 25 to 33 percent of us aren’t getting enough sleep. While one night of lost sleep can impair mindfulness and reduce performance during the day that follows, the effects are usually corrected once sleep is restored. But the repercussions of chronic sleep loss are of greater concern for quality of life and disease risk in the years to come.

Are you clocking enough hours?

Experts suggest that six hours is the minimum length of sleep required for optimal health in average adults. A recent study investigated the impact of having fewer than six hours of sleep for eight consecutive nights. The findings suggested that just one night of insufficient sleep can cause both mental and physical symptoms, which worsen with consecutive nights of lost sleep.

 Consequences of chronic sleep loss

Chronic sleep loss can contribute to systemic low-grade inflammation, which is involved in the development of conditions such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and neurodegeneration. Research shows that sleep disturbance increases the risk of infectious disease and contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression.

 Sleep Rx

Sleep allows the body to rest and repair, the effects of which are crucial for daytime functioning and overall health.

  • Mood: Sleep is vital for emotional processing and memory consolidation.
  • Performance: Sleep loss impairs the speed and accuracy of task performance, decision-making, and exercise recovery.
  • Hormones: Sleep drives the synthesis of reproductive hormones, and sleep deprivation is associated with infertility in both men and women.
  • Immunity: Sleep promotes balance in the immune system by regulating inflammatory mediators known as cytokines.
  • Metabolism: Chronic sleep loss increases the risk of metabolic dysfunction and loss of muscle mass.

Sleep tips to try

Looking for a better night’s sleep? Start here.

  • Have a power nap. Napping has been shown to improve performance and alertness among those with regular sleep deprivation, including night shift workers and pilots.
  • Get your iron levels checked. Iron deficiency can contribute to restless leg syndrome, sleeping disorders, and chronic fatigue. To assess your iron storage, ask your doctor to test ferritin in the blood. If ferritin is low but you’re eating plenty of iron-rich foods, look into potential hindrances to iron absorption, such as antacid use, celiac disease, and pylori infection.
  • Ask your health care practitioner about supplements, such as melatonin, valerian, or passion flower.
  • Cut the caffeine cycle. It’s no surprise that caffeine can reduce total sleep time, impair sleep quality, and cause dependence. Baby steps are better than cold turkey. Slowly weaning off caffeine reduces the risk of caffeine withdrawal headaches and migraines.
  • Be mindful. Improve sleep quality and quantity with lifestyle practices such as deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness meditation, tai chi, and barefoot grounding.

By Dr. Cassie Irwin, ND