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Lack of Sleep Can Affect Your Health

From the July 6, 2003 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution comes an article about how loss of sleep over a period of time can have dire consequences on your health. The article states, "Recent research indicates that chronic under-sleeping does more than undermine productivity or make people more irritable. It also increases the risk of accidents and may contribute to serious, long-term problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease."

The article notes that according to the National Sleep Foundation up to 60 percent of Americans report at least occasional sleep problems. A national study published this year tracking 71,617 nurses found that women who got five hours of sleep or less nightly over a decade had a 39 percent greater risk of heart attack than those who managed eight hours. Scientists at the University of Chicago also found that building up a sleep "debt" over a matter of days can impair metabolism and disrupt hormone levels. After restricting 11 healthy young adults to four hours of sleep for six nights, researchers found their ability to process glucose (sugar) in the blood had declined, in some cases to the level of diabetics.

Dr. Carl E. Hunt, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in Washington notes, "Basically healthy adults who are acutely sleep-restricted tend to eat more, and what they eat more of tends to be carbohydrates and high in fat." One study published this year found that after two weeks of four-hour sleep, a group of healthy young adults performed as poorly on tests of alertness, memory and mental agility as those who had gone without any sleep for two nights. And they didn't seem aware of their gradually deteriorating performance.

Sleep also adds benefits to health. Researchers who scanned sleepers' brains found that the areas involved in learning new tasks remain active in slumber. This suggests that sleep plays a role in storing information for future retrieval. Dr. Steven M. Scharf, medical director of the University of Maryland Sleep Disorders Center summed up the situation nicely when he said, "I like the old days, when they played 'The Star-Spangled Banner' on TV everybody went to bed."