The duration and quality of sleep play an important role in the occurrence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and depression. It is even a risk factor for colon cancer. It is just as important to have a good diet and regular physical activity as to sleep well when you want to preserve your health.
In our high-performing societies, sleep is often seen as a waste of time, so sleep deprivation has increasingly become the norm rather than an exception.
For example, whereas in the early 1960s people slept an average of seven to 8.30 hours a night, today nearly 50% of the population sleeps less than seven hours a night during the week. Spread over a year, this lack of rest means that we lack on average the equivalent of a month and a half of sleep compared to our needs.
Yet sleep is arguably one of the facets of our lifestyle whose positive impact on health is the most underestimated:
– Most people need about eight hours of sleep.
– it helps to regenerate the body’s energy reserves,
– it helps to consolidate learning (memory). “The night brings advice” is a saying that has a biochemical and neurological basis,
– it is essential for the growth of children, because it is at night that the secretion of growth hormones reaches its maximum,
– it is important for the stabilization of emotions and psychic balance.
The health benefits of good sleep
Numerous studies have also shown that poor sleep leads to increased risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and depression. For example, people who sleep less than six hours a night are about 12% more likely to die prematurely than those who sleep between six and eight hours. A Japanese study has shown that in people who are hypertensive, sleep lasting less than seven hours increases the risk of heart attack or stroke by 70%!
Lack of sleep: an impact on colon cancer
Sleep also plays a very important role in maintaining immune function: for example, people who lack sleep produce less interleukin-2, a molecule essential for the functioning of immune cells. They respond less well to certain vaccines and are also more likely to catch a cold. Sleep could also help prevent colorectal cancer. After completing a questionnaire on the number of hours spent sleeping, 1,240 volunteers underwent colonoscopy to determine the possible presence of polyps, intraintestinal protuberances that are the precursors of tumors in this tissue. The results are astonishing: the researchers observed that people who slept less than
six hours a day had a 50% higher incidence of polyps than those who slept normally, i.e. seven hours or more each night. This impact of lack of sleep is enormous and even compares to that associated with other well-known risk factors for colorectal cancer, including high consumption of red meat.
Two three tips for better sleep
Most people need around eight hours of sleep. If you can function until the end of the day without ever feeling drowsy, chances are you’re getting enough sleep. On the other hand, falling asleep after a meal, watching TV or driving is an unmistakable sign of a lack of sleep. Same thing if you have to repeatedly press the snooze button on your alarm clock before you manage to get up in the morning!
There are no magic bullets, but some simple tips from sleep experts can help improve sleep duration and quality.
– Make sleep a ritual: establish a regular schedule, both for going to bed and for waking up (even on weekends). – Avoid bringing your laptops, phones and other electronic gadgets. Surfing the web, checking your emails or your Facebook account or getting upset listening to often depressing news in the period before bedtime are not actions that promote sleep!
Instead, read a good novel that will make you escape from the problems of your day…
Eguchi K et al. Short sleep duration as an independent predictor of cardiovascular events in Japanese patients with hypertension. Arch Intern Med. ; 168: 2225-2231. Thompson CL et al. Short duration of sleep increases risk of colorectal adenoma. Cancer;117:841-847.