Why you should sleep on it

by Karen Bowen

How much sleep did you get last week? You probably don’t remember the last time you got seven to nine hours of sleep every night for a week.

Yet, research indicates that amount of sleep is necessary to keep your body and mind functioning well. However, getting it isn’t easy.

As a truck driver, you operate in a time-sensitive, tightly scheduled work environment. Your success is measured by the clock and successfully meeting your delivery deadlines keeps you employed. Understandably, you may sometimes skip some sleep to make sure your load gets delivered on time.

You might push back your bedtime to drive a few hours longer into the night. Or, you might set your alarm a few hours early to beat the morning traffic. As occasional work-arounds, these strategies are okay, but if used regularly, they may produce long-term health concerns.

Sleep is just one of the factors impacting your overall health. Genetics, nutrition and exercise also play a role. However, getting enough high-quality sleep is now considered equally important as nutrition and exercise for avoiding chronic health issues. During sleep, your body restores itself by growing muscle, repairing tissue, synthesizing protein and releasing growth hormone.

Less sleep means less restoration. Scientists now recognize the solid connection between insufficient sleep and disease. Losing just two or three hours per night is an important risk factor linked to developing obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.

Regarding obesity and weight gain – in one study, people who regularly slept less than six hours each night were much more likely to carry excess body weight. People who averaged eight hours of sleep had the lowest relative body fat.

Studies also show that people who slept fewer than five hours per night were far more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. However, a person’s body could develop the ability to better control blood sugar levels when that person’s sleeping habits changed to regularly include seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Getting enough sleep may reduce the effects of Type 2 diabetes.

According to another recent study, regularly getting just six to seven hours of sleep greatly increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Coronary artery calcification, a very strong predictor of a future heart attack and/or death due to heart disease, occurs more often in those who sleep less. As well, obstructive sleep apnea with sleep loss is strongly linked to stroke, coronary heart disease, hypertension and an irregular heartbeat.

The interaction between sleep and immune function is also well documented. Sleep deprivation increases inflammation throughout your body while infection interferes with your sleep patterns. As a result, your body is less able to resist infection. For example, if you come into contact with the cold-causing rhinovirus while surviving on less than seven hours of sleep, you are three times more likely to catch a cold than if you were regularly sleeping seven or more hours.

Even your life span may be shortened. Studies suggest that your risk of early death increases by up to 15% if you consistently sleep under five hours each night over an extended period of time.

Adding to these health risks, sleep deprivation may also impact your mental processes. Unrested brain neurons often misfire their electrical signals, decreasing cognitive function. This impacts your ability to learn, remember, retrieve previously learned information, interpret situations and make appropriate judgments, and may result in unnecessary accidents and injuries.

But you can avoid these concerns. Regularly aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. This sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, many factors interfere – work demands, family responsibilities, stress, etc. To improve your sleep patterns, begin developing the following recommendations from the Mayo Clinic:

• Keep a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible. Since consistency reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle, maintain a regular bedtime and wake time, even on weekends and holidays.

• Keep your sleep area dark and quiet. Since daylight and other lights and/or noise can disrupt sleep, use window coverings, and close doors and windows.

• Be physically active. Regular physical activity earlier in the day will help you fall asleep faster and enjoy a deeper sleep at night.

• Enjoy early morning sunlight but avoid late night bright lights. Light helps regulate your body’s release of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep.

• Monitor what you drink. Although maintaining hydration is important, caffeine after dinner and alcohol can disrupt your sleep. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day will help you avoid excessive nighttime bathroom trips. 

• Disengage your mind. When a thought disturbs your sleep, write it down. Then, disengage by reading or quietly doing something else until you fall back asleep.

Making these changes will help keep your body and mind functioning well. No big effort or cost required. Just sleep on it!


Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at karen_bowen@yahoo.com.

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