by Susan Andrews, PhD
What do Obesity, Chronic High Stress, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Hypertension, and Depression have in common?
IF you guessed Sleep Deprivation, my hat’s off to you. And, IF you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, raise your hand high. While there is no “magic number” of hours that we should sleep, it is now firmly established that you cannot lose weight if you do not sleep a solid 7-8 hours a night. Research says the average American misses 200-300 hours of needed sleep each year. This is known as a sleep debt.
Studies suggest that healthy adults have a basal sleep need of 7 to 8 hours every night. Where things get complicated is the interaction between the basal need and sleep debt. For instance, you might meet your basal sleep need on any single night or a few nights in a row, but still have an unresolved sleep debt that may make you feel more sleepy and less alert at times, particularly in conjunction with circadian dips, those times in the 24-hour cycle when we are biologically programmed to be more sleepy and less alert, such as overnight hours and midafternoon.
Cortisol is not the only factor that inhibits weight loss but it is a big one. Some physicians are willing to flatly state that you cannot lose weight if you do not get to bed early and get a solid 7 or 8 hours. What getting a good night’s sleep can do for you:
- A good night’s sleep has a positive effect on your blood pressure, meaning that for most of us it goes down at night. If your hours of sleep are interrupted or too short, your blood pressure may never fall low enough.
- Insulin resistance is reduced by good sleep. Dr. Michael Breus, a psychologist and sleep specialist, emphasizes the fact that even short-term sleep loss (being awake for approximately 36 hours) can cause blood glucose levels to be higher than normal.
- A routine schedule for sleeping will help your body keep its internal biological clock running smoothly. You will be more alert, with good reaction time and physical ability, in other words, less accident prone.
Psychologists can help by exploring the sleep habits in the patients they are treating. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, looking at adults with insomnia, found that more than 85% of the study sample who completed 3 or more sleep-focused treatment sessions were able to nod off faster and stay asleep longer. A 6- month follow-up revealed that those patients who had 3 or more sessions spent significantly less money on health care and had fewer doctor visits – compared to the 6 months before their therapy sessions focused on sleep habits. The weekly therapy sessions included relaxation exercises and education on topics such as activities to avoid doing 2 hours before bedtime (like exercise, heavy meals, and smoking). Now, the focus of ways to improve your sleep are adding the need to put your cell phone or other blue light generators down 30 minutes to an hour before bed.