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How Your Sleep Affects Your Health

Mar 20, 2008
Although most of us have heard we need eight hours of sleep a night to maintain good health, we are seldom reminded that quality of sleep is just as important as quantity. Poor quality sleep can lead to poorer performance at work, accidents, and mood swings. Health problems also begin to develop if poor quality sleep persists for a number days or weeks. Understanding what symptoms may result from restless nights will help you understand and correct what might be contributing to mild or moderate insomnia. Sleepless nights can sometimes indicate an underlying condition such as thyroid disorders or depression, so check with your doctor if you are experiencing chronic sleeplessness.

How many hours of sleep do I need?

Some people claim to function optimally with as little three to five hours of sleep. However, for most people getting seven or eight hours is more optimal for maintaining good health. Because the number of hours necessary can vary from person to person, it is best to just pay attention to your own body and the changes in mood or attention span that may occur when you loose sleep. The loss of one hour of sleep in a night may produce subtle impairment of your cognitive abilities that you may not even notice. However, more than one hour of sleep loss in a night may lead to more noticeable changes such as drowsiness and nodding off. Sleep deprivation can also be dangerous. People suffering from sleep deprivation perform poorly when tested for coordination and reaction time. Changes such as these can lead to accidents and mistakes that may have serious consequences. Under conditions of sustained sleep deprivation, hallucinations and mood swings may also develop.

Can losing sleep make me sick?

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the pineal gland at night. Melatonin makes us feel drowsy and contributes to helping us achieve a restful night's sleep. In addition to helping us sleep, melatonin is an antioxidant that aids in supporting our immune system. Sleep deprivation can weaken our immune system making us more vulnerable to diseases and disorders from the common cold to diabetes. When we sleep our immune systems are given a chance to replenish and attack any disease causing bacteria or viruses we may have encountered. The loss of sleep impairs the body's ability to sustain a properly functioning immune system. Sleep deprivation additionally leads to stress which weakens our immune system further.

Can a lack of sleep affect my mood?

Although experiencing stress or anxiety can lead to sleepless nights, the opposite is also true leading to a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break. The human body uses a chain of chemicals to indicate stress. Quality sleep blocks this chain reaction effectively preventing the chemicals that produce stress from being made. At least some studies have also shown that sleep deprivation can even boost the level of stress hormones the following day. Exhaustion can lead to moodiness of varying degrees such as crying easily and anger outbursts. Depending on the duration of sleep loss over time, such mood changes can affect our professional and personal life making us less able to face the normally occurring challenges of life.
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