LONDON, England, Friday August 14, 2015 – Experts on both sides of the Atlantic have warned that insufficient sleep could lead to a range of health problems including heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
In the United Kingdom alone, it is estimated that more than a third of the population are getting less than six hours sleep a night, increasing their risk of an early death by 12 percent.
Lack of sleep releases hormones that increase stress levels and in turn speed up the heart rate and raise blood pressure, sparking a host of health issues.
Routinely getting less than six hours sleep a night can also impact attention, concentration and memory and is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests.
According to Lisa Artis of the British Sleep Council, lack of sleep is a growing problem.
“Firstly people don’t place enough importance on sleep and the health benefits being well-rested can have,” she said.
“Secondly, unlike a lot of well understood life changes such as eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, sleep isn’t really on the agenda.
“Unlike diet, sleep is a hard thing to regiment and a whole number of factors, such as having small children, having other health issues and environmental factors can all disturb sleep patterns,” she added.
Further light was shed on the issue in a recent study by scientists at Surrey University, which discovered that over 700 of the body’s genes are altered when someone regularly gets less than six hours of sleep a night. This could possibly explain why lack of sleep is connected to a range of health problems, the Sunday Times reported.
Further research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology in 2013 revealed how seven or more hours of sleep a night helped enhance a healthy lifestyle.
The Independent reports that Public Health England is now encouraging people to sleep more in a government campaign to help people lead healthier lifestyles.
Focusing on middle-aged people, the campaign will advocate seven lifestyle changes including improving sleep, quitting smoking, drinking less and exercising more.
Public Health England said in a document released last month: “Only around 20-30 percent of what we think of as “ageing” is biological; the rest is “decay” or “deterioration,” which can be actively managed or prevented.
“The years between ages 40 and 60 are thus a unique but neglected opportunity for intervention.”
Meanwhile, commenting on the myth that older people need less sleep, Artis said: “Middle-aged people need the same amount of sleep, even if they don’t get it in one big block like people in their 20s and 30s. It may mean that people catch up on their sleep with an afternoon nap.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently released its first recommendations for the right amount of sleep. It advised that adults get at least seven hours every night based on research on the link between inadequate sleep and poor health outcomes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which requested and helped support the development of the current recommendations, has described inadequate sleep as “a public health epidemic.”
For many aspects of health, “it was quite clear that seven to nine hours was good,” said Dr Nathaniel F. Watson, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a professor of neurology at the University of Washington, who led the panel of experts that wrote the recommendations.
The group looked at more than 300 studies and found that getting only six hours of sleep a night or less was associated with setbacks in performance including mental alertness and driving ability, and increased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and obesity, Watson said.
The researchers looked at studies that reported connections between the amount of sleep that people said they got and their health over long periods. They also took into consideration studies that monitored people in sleep labs that controlled how much sleep they got.
James Gangwisch, a sleep researcher at Colombia University, reported a connection between getting less than seven hours of sleep a night and high body mass index.
Separate studies in sleep labs suggest how inadequate sleep could lead to obesity: it drives up the levels of appetite-inducing hormones.
The weight gain that might be caused by inadequate sleep could, in turn, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, said Gangwisch, who helped develop the current recommendations.
Additionally, sleep deficits seem to increase blood pressure as several studies have found, which could be bad for heart health.
Noting that some people viewed sleep as an obstruction to success, Dr Watson said that it should be viewed as a tool for success.
“We really want people to prioritize their sleep and understand that it is as important to their overall wellbeing as diet and exercise,” he said.