• Martha Lewis

How lack of sleep can cause disease

Sleep issues are epidemic in our society, and many of us go through our days feeling tired and rundown. Or maybe we feel fine until we hit that dreaded afternoon wall of exhaustion that causes lineups out the door at Starbucks while people try to refuel with caffeine to get through the rest of their day.

We might joke about how little sleep we get. And in some cases even take pride in the fact that we can survive on only five hours of sleep while we’re working on an important project at work or studying for college exams.

But chronic sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. In fact, it has been linked to diseases like

diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression. I have said this many times, but it bears repeating: sleep needs to be a priority.

It’s a given that you can’t expect your body to function at its best if you don’t eat breakfast and lunch. You can’t decide not to breathe for a few hours, either. These are basic body functions that are crucial to your health and survival.

Sleep is about restoration. It’s when your busy brain can finally rest its neurons and create

proteins that help repair cell damage. And it's during sleep that our immune system produces infection-fighting antibodies to battle bacteria and viruses.

In kids, the brain releases growth hormones during sleep.

It’s absolutely vital that you get enough rest so your body can recover from your day and prepare for the next one.

We all know that when we don’t get enough sleep we can feel foggy, spaced out, emotional,

irritable and have trouble focusing. But if it continues long enough, this lack of sleep can lower your body’s defenses and put you at risk of developing a chronic illness. Here are some

conditions that are known to be caused by ongoing sleep deprivation:

1. Diabetes

According to the Centre for Disease Control, research has found that sleep duration and quality can be predictors of levels of Hemoglobin A1c, an important marker of blood sugar control. Recent studies suggest that the better you sleep, the more control your body has of improving blood sugar control.

2. Cardiovascular Disease

Sleep apnea is a common cause of insomnia, and people who suffer from it have been found to have an increased risk of hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease and irregular heartbeat. According to Harvard Medical School, for people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the following day.

3. Depression

The link between depression and sleep is a complex one, with a bit of a “chicken and egg”

problem: is the person depressed because he can’t sleep, or is it that he can’t sleep because he’s depressed?

There is research that shows that people suffering from depression may have those

symptoms decrease once sleep apnea has been treated and they start sleeping well again, and the National Sleep Foundation claims that people with insomnia have a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well.

It can be easy to brush the importance of sleep aside as we navigate through our busy lives. But just like eating well and exercising and taking care of our mental health by learning how to relieve stress, sleep deserves just as much of our attention.

And if you’ve been sleeping poorly, you don’t need to worry that the damage is already done. It’s never too late to start sleeping well. And your body will do its best to repair and restore itself while you’re getting the rest you so desperately need.

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