If You’re Not Getting At Least 7 Hours of Sleep, You’re Risking Your Health. Here’s Why

Sleep habits are more important than you probably think. More than 1/3 of the human population is not getting enough sleep. It’s not healthy at all to be drained and fatigued throughout the day, craving caffeinated beverages and sugar rushes, but it’s certainly way too common.

Unfortunately, fatigue has been accepted as an integral part of the busy western life.
Now, a new study jerks us back to reality. Sleeping six or fewer hours per night is insufficient to sustain health and safety in adults. Adults need sleep just as much as children do, seven hours or more to be specific, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and Sleep Research Society.

About the sleep study

The study was conducted by a Consensus Panel of 15 of the nation’s foremost sleep experts over a 12-month period. The 15 experts used a modified RAND Appropriateness Method to develop a recommendation for sleep duration that promotes optimal health in adults from 18 to 60 years of age.

Consequences of sleep deprivation

In the short term, the consequences of sleep deprivation are these:

1.       Decreased performance and alertness: Sleep deprivation induces significant reductions in performance and alertness. Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%.

2.       Memory and cognitive impairment: Decreased alertness and excessive daytime sleepiness impair your memory and your cognitive ability — your ability to think and process information.

3.       Relationship problems: Disruption of a bed partner’s sleep due to a sleep disorder may cause significant problems for the relationship (for example, separate bedrooms, conflicts, moodiness, etc.).

4.       Poor quality of life: You might, for example, be unable to participate in certain activities that require sustained attention, like going to the movies, seeing your child in a school play, or watching a favorite TV show.

5.       Occupational injury: Excessive sleepiness also contributes to a greater than twofold higher risk of sustaining an occupational injury.

6.       Automobile injury: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates conservatively that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities.

The good news for many of the disorders that cause sleep deprivation is that after risk assessment, education, and treatment, memory and cognitive deficits improve and the number of injuries decreases.

In the long term, the clinical consequences of untreated sleep disorders are devastating as well. They are associated with numerous, serious medical illnesses, including: heart attack or heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, psychiatric problems, depression and other mood disorders, attention deficit disorder(ADD), mental impairment, fetal and childhood growth retardation, injury from accidents, disruption of bed partner’s sleep quality, poor overall quality of life, and so on.  

Studies show an increased mortality risk for those reporting less than either six or seven hours per night. One study found that reduced sleep time poses a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure, and heart disease together. Sleep disturbance is also one of the leading predictors of institutionalization in the elderly, and severe insomnia triples the mortality risk in elderly men.

Sleep loss may also be an important contributing factor to obesity. John Winkelman, MD, PhD, medical director of the Sleep Health Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School sums up this finding up nicely: “What most people do not realize is that better sleep habits may be instrumental to the success of any weight management plan.” And Michael Thorpy, MD, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York adds: “Any American making a resolution to lose weight should probably consider a parallel commitment for getting more sleep.”

50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders. According to the National Institutes of Health, untreated sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

In a report by the Institute of Medicine titled, Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent a year on medical costs related to sleep disorders.

Sleep disorders have a negative effect on work productivity, behavior and relationships. Furthermore, drowsy driving claims more than 1,500 lives and causes at least 100,000 motor vehicle crashes each year. Sleep deprivation is a deadly problem in America, but it keeps getting swept under the rug.

Chronic snoring, for example, is associated with an increased incidence of heart and brain -related diseases. It is present in about 45% of the U.S. population. And up to half of those have sleep apnea. The prevalence of sleep apnea is on par with diabetes  and asthma. More than 20 million Americans — 24% of adult men and 9% of adult women are estimated to have some degree of obstructive sleep apnea. Only a fraction have been diagnosed and treated.

Sleep apnea is a primary risk factor for high blood pressure (HBP). As many as 40% of those people are undiagnosed and untreated for HBP. Effective treatment of sleep apnea in patients with HBP leads to a substantial reduction in stroke risk.

Patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea perform as poorly as drunk drivers and have up to a 15-fold increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.

With the wealth of information and treatment options available for sleep deprivation, much of the suffering, illness from the many related diseases, increase in accident rates, and effects on productivity, performance, concentration, and memory can be avoided. Increased awareness is the first step, for us individually and the health care community. Some researchers suggest that sleep deprivation should be recognized with the same seriousness that has been associated with the societal impact of alcohol.

Benefits of ‘a good night of sleep:

If you are not getting enough sleep, this is what you are missing out on:

  • reduced under eye circles
    an improved mood
    an improved memory
    an inflammation remedy
    improved daily performance of your body and brain
    better maintenance of a healthy weight
    lower stress levels

Getting more sleep is not all that matters

To reap the full benefits of a healthy sleep, appropriate timing, daily regularity, good sleep quality and the absence of sleep disorders must also be taken into consideration.

Try to go to bed at the same time every day, for the same amount of hours, (6 or more). Invest in a good quality mattress to properly support your spine. If you think you may have a sleep disorder, see your doctor about your concerns.

Is it possible to oversleep?
According to incoming AASM president and Consensus Panel moderator Dr. Nathaniel F. Watson, sleeping for a long time, (more than 9 hours,) is usually the result of a chronic illness rather than the cause of it, and few experimental laboratory studies have been done to examine the health effects of long sleep durations.

The Consensus Panel refrained from placing a maximum limit to sleep duration since young adults, individuals recovering from sleep debt, and individuals with illnesses might need 9 hours or more of sleep for optimal health.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine
Sleep Research Society