We often trivialize the importance of sleep, but recent studies have shown that sleep has been linked to such varied things as your mood, your risk for heart disease, your grades in school, even your weight.
"Because of our 24-hour society, we have increased our activities and obligations to the point that sleep often suffers in the balance," says James K. Wyatt, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorder Service and Research Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
"Seven to nine hours of sleep seems to be the optimal range for most people to maintain their health and feel well rested," says Wyatt. "Outside of that range, we usually start to see problems."
"In fact, we've found that restricting the sleep of normal healthy people can have a negative effect on how well their bodies function," says Wyatt. "Restricting sleep can have negative effects on the immune system. It can affect a person's appetite. Studies have also shown that sleep deprivation can negatively affect how the body regulates blood sugar and insulin."
Sleep problems can come on gradually over time. "People get used to feeling a certain way," says Wyatt. "They come to expect certain levels of sleepiness and physical fatigue as part of their everyday existence. In fact, it's very common after treatment for patients to have forgotten how alert and energetic they used to be and be pleased to regain those feelings."
Looking for the Signs
Some of the signs that you are experiencing problems with your sleep include:
- Accidentally falling asleep at school or work
- Regularly taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at the beginning of the night
- Being awake for more than 30 minutes in the middle of the night
- Being told that you make loud snoring or gasping sounds during sleep
- "Nodding off" when doing something that requires your attention, like driving
- Even if not noticeably sleepy, finding times of the day when memory and concentration are significantly impaired
If you experiencing these symptoms, have a talk with your doctor, who may be able to offer treatment. Your doctor may also refer you to a sleep specialist if necessary, so that your problem can be identified and properly treated.
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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.
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