QUESTION: “I can’t seem to sleep well anymore. How does sleep impact my health?”
ANSWER: Adequate sleep is essential to good health as sleep affects crucial systems and functions throughout the body. Most of us have probably experienced the feeling of tiredness, sluggishness, and even grumpiness at some point in our lives after a night or two of poor sleep. Though fatigue might be a commonly recognized consequence of sleep deficit, sleep impacts more than just energy levels. Sleep affects brain functions, memory consolidation, mood, the immune system, hormone levels, healing, breathing, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, appetite, and more. Research has shown that lack of sleep negatively impacts one’s health and increases the risk for cognitive decline, dementia, depression, inflammation, infections, hormone imbalance, chronic pain, breathing problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Though the optimal amount of sleep varies between individuals, current research indicates that most adults need 7 to 9 hours of good sleep each night. However, it is estimated that 1 in 3 adults do not get enough sleep. So, you are not alone if you find that you are not sleeping well these days (or nights, more likely).
Sleep is truly multifactorial. There are many reasons why one might not be getting the amount or quality of sleep needed to function at their best. Are you finding it difficult to sleep because you feel anxious or stressed? Is physical discomfort or pain keeping you up at night? Are you waking frequently throughout the night because you need to use the restroom? Are night-sweats waking you up? Is excessive snoring or sleep apnea impacting the quality of your sleep? Are the demands of work, school, or family interfering with your sleep? Do you spend time on your phone or computer late into the night, and then find it difficult to fall asleep when you finally turn your device off?
There are many ways we can try to help improve sleep and reduce the negative consequences of sleep debt. Recommendations should be tailored to your individual circumstances and needs. If you are struggling with sleep, please discuss your concerns and options with your healthcare provider.
This question from a reader was answered by Jo Shen, DO. She practices at Robert C. Byrd Clinic in Lewisburg.