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A Wake-Up Call
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Americans have accepted sleep deprivation as a new way of life. They consider sleep as an expendable luxury. Such is the conclusion of a recent government report. About 15 to 20 percent of adults regularly get less than six hours of sleep a night. Sleep deprived people don’t feel as well, don’t function as well academically, and they have more accidents than people getting adequate sleep.

With sleep deprivation, one can also experience impaired memory, anxiety, and lowered immune defenses. The cumulative long-term effects of sleep loss have been associated with a wide range of deleterious health consequences, including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.

In a ten-year study, persons who got five hours or less of sleep were more than twice as likely to develop hypertension as those who got seven to eight hours a night. Adults who reported five hours of sleep or less were 2.5 times more likely to have diabetes compared with those getting seven to eight hours per night. In the Nurses Health Study, five hours of sleep or less was associated with a 45 percent increase in risk of heart attack.

In another study, individuals who slept less than six hours a night were seven and half times more likely to be overweight. The hormone ghrelin, produced by the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite; while leptin, produced in fat cells, signals the brain when one is full. Sleep deprivation causes leptin levels to drop (so you don’t feel as satisfied after eating) while ghrelin levels rise, so you want to eat. Hence, sleep deficiency can set the stage for overeating.

Seven Steps to Sleep Improvement

To improve your chances of a good night’s sleep, the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven steps:

1. Have a regular schedule for going to bed and waking up. Consistency is important. Sleeping in late on weekends can throw off your rhythm.

2. Create a safe environment for sleep. A comfortable mattress and a dark, quiet room are essential. The ambient temperature should be not too cool or warm.

3. The bedroom should be a designated sleep area and not a work zone with a computer or TV available.

4. Bedtime should be approached in a relaxed mood. Avoid achievement-oriented tasks and lively discussions just prior to bedtime. Light reading, soothing music, or a warm bath help to relax you.

5. Avoid caffeine-containing foods and beverages. Such stimulants can keep you awake and affect the quality of your sleep.

6. Quit eating three to four hours before regular bedtime. A big meal late in the evening usually guarantees that you will not awaken refreshed and rejuvenated the next morning.

7. Exercise or work out regularly. The workout should finish long before bedtime to enable you to wind down and prepare for sleep.

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By Winston J. Craig. Reprinted with permission from the Lake Union Herald, April 2007. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines
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