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Surprising Health Hazards from a Lack of Sleep

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Sleep scientist James B. Maas, PhD, has already shown the real-world power of these findings by training pro athletes looking for an edge. For example, after working with Maas to improve her sleep habits, U.S. figure skater Sarah Hughes reported improved performance, contributing to an Olympic gold medal.

Among Maas’s other recent clients are the high school educators at Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass., who were concerned by research showing that adolescents functioned poorly very early in the day. Under Maas’s guidance, Deerfield changed its starting time to allow students an extra hour of sleep, and the school’s average grades rose to a record winter-term high. Teachers reported students showed increased alertness, and visits to the health center were down 20 percent in a year when other schools reported substantial increases in flu and colds.

This raises a question that sleep scientists like Maas hear all the time: How much sleep does the average person need to function optimally, or even competently? Can some people really get by on, say, four hours of sleep a night (as Bill Clinton famously claimed was the case for him), or will chronic sleep deprivation ultimately catch up with everyone?

It depends, says Maas. While most people do well with seven and a half to eight hours, there are individuals who need less — or substantially more. “Some people find they need 10 hours,” says Maas, “and they can no more change that than they can change a size-9 shoe to a size 6. Women, especially, often need more sleep because of fluctuations in hormones, including testosterone, cortisol and melatonin during menstruation and pregnancy, and at the start of menopause. It’s ultimately in the genes.”

To figure out how much sleep you need, Maas suggests finding out what time you need to bed down to wake up in the morning without any grogginess or even an alarm. Each week go to bed 15 minutes earlier, he says, until you find how many hours you really need. He also advises getting most of your rest in a single stretch, and not in chunks. Fragmented nights compromise energy and cognition and lead to daytime exhaustion, he says. So consider sleeping alone if your partner’s snoring, wakefulness or restless legs disturb you. If you do lose time on any given night, says Maas, make up for it as soon as possible. Catch up by going to bed earlier, not sleeping in later. And make up the sleep over a number of successive days, not all at once.

There are those rare few who truly don’t need much sleep, Maas says, but they usually come from families with a particular genetic trait. For most of us, though, the belief that we don’t need much sleep is delusional. As Maas points out, “Clinton now says he made his worst decisions on those sleepless nights.”

More Risks of Sleeplessness

Anyone who’s ever pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline or study for a test knows the day-after results aren’t pretty: The body feels sluggish, the mind fogged or frenetic. Recent research shows that a chronic lack of sleep is far more damaging than previously assumed by many experts. Sleep deficits as small as an hour a night can increase the risk of a wide range of conditions. Why? Because when we don’t get enough sleep, our immune systems go into overdrive, which causes systemic inflammation and turns on dangerous genetic switches.

Everyone’s immune system is unique, so how sleep deprivation affects you might be different from how it affects another person. Here are just some of the ways chronic skimping on sleep can affect your health:

1. Neuropsychiatric disorders, impaired alertness and cognition, and headaches
2. Vision problems, including blurred vision, floppy eyelid syndrome, glaucoma, even temporary blindness
3. High blood pressure
4. Increased levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress
5. Cancer
6. Difficulty with sexual functioning
7. Increased food cravings and hunger
8. Insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes
9. Hearing loss
10. Muscle weakness and decreased athletic performance
11. Heart disease
12. Skin problems and rashes, including eczema
13. Hair loss
14. Disrupted metabolism, weight gain and obesity

By Pamela Weintraub, from Experience Life

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4:54PM PDT on May 18, 2013

so glad I sleep well

1:48PM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

Interesting.

1:15AM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

Thanks.

1:12AM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

so it's not looking good for me

1:02AM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

I'll take quality over quantity every time... one to three bouts of deep sleep over lulling away for 7-12 hours...

1:00AM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

Sleep is king :)

12:58AM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

Getting enough sleep can make a real difference in our outlook, how productive we can be, and in our health- both physical and mental!
We owe it to ourselves to treat sleep just as we would an necessity
for our health! Thanks for this article.

9:01AM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

thanks

10:22PM PDT on Mar 11, 2013

I've had only a couple of hours of sleep the past few nights, and I can sure feel it. Sometimes when I'm trying to go to sleep, and something scares or startles me, it makes me jump, and I can just feel the inflammation through my entire body.

10:09PM PDT on Mar 11, 2013

Working night shift is not fun, but I can tell I always get a good morning sleep. After my shift, I come to an empty home. Everyone as gone, I sleep till its time to pick up my kids after school. I think I sleep more than enough compare to others who work night shifts like me.

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