It’s no secret that millions of Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. Many wear it as a badge of honor that they can function (so they think) with minimal amounts of sleep. But consistently shorting themselves of sleep can lead not just to short-term dysfunction due to mental tiredness, but long-term health problems as well if sleep does not become regularized.
Many Americans also suffer from metabolic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, incidences of which continue to increase in number. Through a combination of factors such as poor diet and insufficient physical inactivity, more and more Americans are subjecting themselves to metabolic diseases and their health consequences. And now researchers are discovering just how sleep or the lack thereof contributes to the development of those diseases.
Researchers discovered that for every hour of variation in length of sleep or change in bedtime, the risk of developing the risk factors for metabolic diseases increased 27%. Among the risk factors for developing metabolic diseases are:
- Waist measurement greater than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women;
- HDL (good) cholesterol levels under 40 mg/dl for men and 50 mg/dl for women;
- Blood pressure higher than 130/85; and
- Fasting blood sugar measurement greater than 100 mg/dl.
Once a person develops one of these risk factors, they often go on to develop multiple risk factors. All of these risk factors are an indicator that one is highly at risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, or some other form of metabolic disease.
According to the study, those participants with the largest variations in bedtimes and number of hours slept were the most likely to develop these risk factors. Importantly, it was the variation in times that was key, independent of overall sleep. So someone who consistently got 7 hours of sleep every night would have had less chance of developing these risk factors than someone who got 7 hours one night, 4 hours the next, 9 hours the day after, etc.
For too long, too many people have ignored the effects that poor sleep can have on health. So if you’re looking to improve your health and reduce your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, start getting to bed at a regular time and getting a decent amount of sleep.