Mind and Body

Sleep: An essential tool for preventing disease

There is one pillar of good health that is often missed when experts discuss habits for a healthy lifestyle – sleep. This essential habit may miss the list because so many people take it for granted, believing that skimping on sleep affects little more than your energy level and function the following day.  However, irrefutable evidence suggests sleep, and plenty of it, are crucial to preventing disease.

In fact, a statement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it best: “Insufficient sleep is associated with the onset of diseases and also poses important implications for their management and outcome.…Sleep is not a luxury –it is a necessity- and should be thought of as vital to good health.”

When you skip sleep or fail to take action when your sleep quality is poor, you put yourself at risk for chronic disease, weight gain and advanced aging. Learn the top adverse health conditions that can result from too little sleep and just how vital good sleep is to your everyday health.

• Weight gain. In May, a study published in the journal Sleep unveiled some interesting findings: Plenty of sleep (seven to nine hours) inhibits genetic factors linked to weight gain. The researchers observed 1,000 sets of twins, particularly noting weight and sleeping habits, and determined that those that slept less than seven hours each night weighed more and endured a greater difficulty controlling their weight compared to those who got as much as 9 hours of sleep each night. Genetic factors can influence BMI by as much as 32 percent, making getting plenty of sleep a top weight management strategy.

• Cardiovascular disease. It may come as no surprise that lack of sleep contributes to heart disease; an increased risk for heart disease is linked to so many poor health habits. However, in the case of missed sleep, researchers at the West Virginia University School of Medicine determined that getting fewer than seven hours of sleep each night increases your risk of heart disease and, if you’re a woman under the age of 60, your risk doubles if you are catching less than five hours each night.

• Breast Cancer. A few extra hours of shut-eye can actually lower your risk of breast cancer. According to a review of data of nearly 24,000 women between the ages of 40 and 79, those who got nine hours or more sleep each night had a 28 percent decreased risk of breast cancer, while those that got less than six hours had a 62 percent greater risk.

• Colon Cancer. It doesn’t take much more than seven hours a night of quality sleep to ward off the development of colorectal polyps. In a 2011 study, researchers found a 47 percent increase in the development of polyps in individuals who got less than six hours of sleep per night.

• Urinary Issues. In May 2011, research presented at the meeting of the American Urological Association find that five years of restless sleep or simply fewer than five hours of sleep each night increased a woman’s risk of nocturia (rising in the middle of the night to urinate) or incontinence by as much as 90 percent. This is likely the result of increased inflammation caused by poor quality sleep.

• Diabetes. Multiple studies in the past have demonstrated that a lack of sleep impairs glucose metabolism and appetite regulation, contributing to the risk of type 2 diabetes. A 2008 study, however, emphasized how equally imperative quality of sleep is to your health. Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center observed the effects of deep sleep on blood glucose levels. After just three nights with minimal amounts of deep sleep, young, healthy subjects experienced decreased sensitivity to insulin. This effect was quite significant – equating to a level of glucose intolerance experienced by someone who has gained 20 or 30 pounds.

• Death. Poor sleep put men closer to death. A 10-year study of 16,000 people showed that men under the age of 40 who reported poor sleep had twice the risk of death as men who slept well. Women’s mortality was unaffected; however sleep disturbances in both sexes were linked to high blood pressure and diabetes.

So, how can you ensure quality sleep to ward off disease and aging? Try these tips to ensure you get the most out of your pillow time:

1. Maintain a regular bedtime and try to awaken at the same time each morning – sleeping no more than an hour later on the weekends.

2. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, avoiding bright lights from TV, mobile phones and computer screens. Unwind with relaxing activities that improve the secretion of the hormone melatonin such as soaking in a hot bath, reading a book or listening to soothing music.

3. Create a sleep-conducive environment: Dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.

4. Make your bedroom a comfortable environment. Invest in a quality mattress and comfy pillows.

5. Limit the activity in your bedroom, mainly to sleep.

6. Avoid caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. It can keep you awake.

7. Despite how you may feel after a glass of red wine, alcohol disturbs the sleep cycle.  Avoid consumption of alcohol prior to bedtime.

Dr. Jennifer Landa is Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD, the nation's largest franchise of physicians specializing in bioidentical hormone therapy. Dr. Jen spent 10 years as a traditional OB-GYN, and then became board-certified in regenerative medicine, with an emphasis on bio-identical hormones, preventative medicine and nutrition. She is the author of "The Sex Drive Solution for Women."  Learn more about her programs at www.jenlandamd.com