Do you get a full eight hours of sleep each night? Or are you lucky to get just a few? If you’re getting by on five or fewer hours of sleep each night and think you can still function and stay healthy, you might be surprised to know this is just a myth. It is also potentially deadly.
Researchers from the NYU School of Medicine took on this sleep myth and several others in a 2019 study about common beliefs about sleep.
Some of the topics they tackled included how much sleep we really need each night to stay healthy and whether snoring is harmless. They also investigated whether having an alcoholic drink to fall asleep is harmful.
“Getting enough sleep — and getting good quality sleep — are important to your overall health,” said Dr. Darin Ward, a Dallas, Texas, orthodontist.
Seven hours or more a night is recommended.
Sleep plays a vital role in health because it is when the body can restore its tissues and functions. It’s also when memories are organized, reasoning is honed and hormones are regulated.
“One of the hormones regulated during sleep is insulin. So, if you’re not getting to deep sleep, the slow-wave N3 non-REM levels of sleep, your chance of developing type 2 diabetes is increased,” Ward said.
When insulin is not regulated, the body does not know how to process sugars from food, and weight gain occurs.
“There’s a whole other list of concerns that exist with gaining weight and overall health,” Ward said.
Other hormones affected by a lack of sleep include serotonin, which can lead to mood issues such as depression and anxiety.
Some studies have linked a lack of sleep to treatment-resistant depression and higher levels of anxiety in some individuals.
Growth hormones are also produced during sleep.
“When the body isn’t making growth hormone in childhood or adolescence, the result is children who are undersized compared to their peers,” Ward said.
One of the most common factors stopping people from getting enough good quality sleep is the sleep breathing disorder obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
“OSA happens when the airway becomes blocked during sleep,” Ward said.
Airway blockages are usually caused by the tongue falling back into the airway as a result of a lower jaw that is set too far back, or from the muscles of the throat collapsing into the airway when the body is relaxed during sleep.
When the airway is blocked, breathing stops.
“This can happen hundreds of times per night in severe cases,” Ward said.
More than 22 million Americans are suspected of suffering from OSA, many of whom who are undiagnosed or untreated.
Source: NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine. “Common sleep myths compromise good sleep and health.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 April 2019.