The importance of getting eight hours of sleep a night is widely discussed, however it may be difficult to find someone you know who actually accomplishes this. And for all of the talk about such a lofty goal for sleep each night, the question that remains is why getting enough sleep is so important. Aside from the obvious short-term effects like fatigue and irritability the next day, the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School says not getting enough sleep can cause serious long-term health problems.
Obesity is a great example of a health issue that may arise from poor sleep habits. In fact, studies have shown that people who routinely get less than six hours of sleep per night are much more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI), while those who sleep eight hours a night typically have the lowest BMI. So why does this happen? Researchers say this is caused by upsetting the balance of hormones that are secreted during sleep. These hormones help control appetite, metabolism and glucose processing, so it is easy to see how this can lead to weight gain. Even worse than obesity on its own, lack of sleep can also lead to diabetes due to the issues it can cause with glucose processing.
Hypertension is another serious health problem that can be affected by sleep. A study found that just one night of insufficient sleep for someone with hypertension can result in elevated blood pressure the next day, which in turn can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Interestingly enough, researchers have discovered that too much sleep can also be harmful. One study found that women who slept more than nine hours a night actually had an increased risk for developing coronary heart disease.
In addition to the long-term physical effects, insufficient sleep can also lead to a multitude of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Of course all of these health problems, both physical and mental, are very serious and it is important to do everything possible to prevent and manage them. While it is certainly not the only answer to good health, you may want to take it seriously the next time your doctor tells you to get more sleep.