A sufficient amount of sleep is necessary to maintain good health. That’s a given. But what most people aren’t aware of is that too much or too little sleep may contribute to diabetes, while also compromising hormone levels necessary to maintain a strong immune system. And as if that weren’t enough, insufficient sleep has also been associated with an increased risk of cancer.
So if you’ve been carving hours out of your normal sleep schedule or if you’re just finding it hard to sleep, there are a few simple steps you can take to help get the right amount of shut-eye (and improve your health) in the coming year.
Wide awake in Germany
With all the recent talk about a flu epidemic, I took special note when I came across a recent German study published in Psychosomatic Medicine. Citing the fact that relatively few studies have been conducted to examine the theory that sleep helps support the immune system, the researchers developed a unique method to examine the effects of sleep deprivation on immune response.
A group of 19 healthy men and women were each given vaccines for hepatitis A virus. As with most other vaccines, this one prompts the immune system to release antibodies to fight the infection.
After receiving the vaccines, half the group got a normal night’s shuteye, while the other half stayed awake all night and all of the next day until late evening. Researchers measured hepatitis A antibody levels in all the subjects throughout this initial phase and for another 28 days. Beyond the first night of the test, all of the subjects slept as they normally would.
The sleep-deprived group showed a decrease in antibodies after their night of sleeplessness. And at the end of the full testing period, this group had, on average, about half the antibody level as the subjects who had slept normally.
The researchers speculate that during sleep the release of specific hormones stimulate the lymph system to assist in antibody synthesis. They concluded that their results demonstrate the importance of sleep for a fully functional immune system.
Aiming for balance
But how much sleep is the right amount?
The answer to that would vary from person to person, of course. But a study I told you about in a previous e-Alert reveals that the conventional idea about ‘8 solid’ may not be the best way to go.
In the 2002 study, scientists analysed the sleep habits of more than 1.1 million subjects who participated in the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II. Researchers followed up with the participants six years later to determine if they were still alive and, if not, what had caused their deaths.
The data showed that subjects who reported sleeping eight hours or more had a ‘significantly increased mortality hazard.’ In fact, people who reported sleeping more than 8 1/2 hours per night were 15 percent more likely to have died during follow up than those who slept less. Previous studies have also linked too much sleep with depression and other health problems.
Based on their final analysis, researchers concluded that the optimal amount of sleep each night is between 6 1/2 and 7 1/2 hours.
Another study, released last spring, reported similar results. After following the sleep patterns of more than 70,000 women for 10 years, researchers found that women who slept five hours or less each night, and women who slept nine hours or more each night were approximately 35 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared to women who slept more than five and less than nine hours each night.
Next stop: Dreamland
If you suffer from insomnia here are some tips that may help you to nod off:
- Decrease mental activity in the evening.
- Make preparations for the next day.
- Take a hot bath before bedtime to help relieve stress. Soothing fragrances, lights, and music may help as well.
- Limit activities in bed to sleep and sex only – no reading or television watching.
- If you have trouble sleeping, try sleeping in another area of the house.
- Turn off all the lights.
So turn out the lights and help yourself relax in any way that works best to send you off to a good (and healthy) night’s sleep.