What’s the big deal about sleep?

Image via FreeImages.com/Zvone Lavric
Image via FreeImages.com/Zvone Lavric

A prescription for sleep might be just as important as prescription medications and not getting enough sleep can have a number of consequences.

According to Dr. Philip Alapat, assistant professor of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine and associate medical director of the Baylor Sleep Center, research appears to show that a lack of sleep has been associated with increased risk of mortality.

Those who sleep less than seven hours a day seem to live shorter lives than those who sleep an average of seven to eight hours a day. However, those who sleep more than eight hours a day also don’t live as long, so the right amount of sleep appears to be very important for longevity.

Studies have also shown that sleep affects memory and learning, and that a lack of sleep has a negative impact on things associated with learning such as school performance in children.

For teens and adolescents who pull all-nighters to cram for an exam, it may be better to put the books down and hit the sack for a few hours to cement the knowledge into their brains.

A lack of sleep can also be dangerous to others – 15 to 25 percent of motor vehicle accidents have been attributed to excessive sleepiness. In the United States, 56,000 accidents take place each year due to inadequate sleep. The impairment in driving performance when sleepy is equivalent to driving while intoxicated.

Other health concerns have been associated with insufficient sleep. They include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes and insulin resistance
  • Cardiovascular disease and hypertension
  • Mood disorders
  • Immune dysfunction

So how much sleep should you be getting? The National Sleep Foundation released these recommendations in 2015:

  • Newborn (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
  • Infant (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • Toddler (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Preschooler (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
  • School-aged child (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
  • Teen (14-17 years): 8 -10 hours
  • Young adult (18-25 years): 7-9 hours
  • Adult (26-64 years): 7-9 hours
  • Older adult (65+ years): 7-8 hours

If you’re not getting enough sleep, however, Alapat cautions against taking common hypnotics such as Ambien, Lunesta and others on a regular basis. Research has shown that people who take these medications on a regular basis also tend to live shorter lives.

Anyone that has a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea, that impacts sleep quality should see a sleep medicine specialist to ensure appropriate therapy is being provided.

-By Dipali Pathak

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