Sleep, it’s not the most exciting topic. But a report from Tufts University says sleep is the third pillar of health along with diet and activity. Besides, we spend a third of our lives sleeping, and if you sleep poorly, it can trigger a cascade of health problems.
José Ordovás, professor of nutrition at Tufts, says, “We can survive for extended periods without eating, but not for long without sleeping.”
Recent research suggests that we need sleep to remove toxins and metabolic trash from the brain. This trash may be related to Alzheimer’s disease. Short periods of sleep are also associated with greater risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, depression, and cardiovascular disease. And about one third of North Americans get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep.
A short sleep of five to six hours is associated with 30 percent increased risk of diabetes. And a study of 31,000 adults found that short sleep was linked to irregular heart rate and increased risk of heart failure.
In 2019, Ordovás and his colleagues reviewed the ultrasound tests and CT scans of the carotid arteries in the neck, femoral arteries in the groin, and those supplying oxygen to the heart’s muscle, of 4,000 people. They were looking for plaque that blocks the flow of blood.
Ordovás found that lower sleep time was associated with increased plaque (atherosclerosis) in all arteries. He concluded, “Our research shows that sleep disruption has long term and serious consequences.”
What about anger? A study at Iowa State University recruited 142 volunteers, half of whom were restricted from normal sleep for up to four hours for two nights. The other half continued with normal sleep. They were then given simple tests to solve while listening to annoying background music. The sleep restricted group became angrier and more frustrated at all levels of noise than the group who enjoyed normal sleep.
Alcohol should be limited before bedtime as it’s a false friend and causes middle-of-the-night wakeups. It is more troublesome for women as they metabolize alcohol differently than men. The stimulating effects of caffeine should be reduced especially in the late afternoon. And smoking, too, is a stimulant.
Make your bedroom friendly. The majority of people sleep better in a cool, but not cold room. Keep the room dark with dark shades. And turn your clock to the wall if you keep looking at it.
Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. It can cause heartburn. And drink less liquids in the evening.
(Advice provided in this column is the opinion of the author; for comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.)