How sleep affects your health

Research shows that poor sleep habits can lead to more than just a case of the yawns. Find out how sleep affects your health

By Lesley Young

How sleep affects your health

Researchers are unraveling a host of surprising health risks in troubled sleepers from depression to weight gain. Experts recommend you log an average of six to eight hours of sleep every night. If you are not getting enough zzzs, check out these 5 tips for getting a perfect night’s sleep.

Women are susceptible to weight-gain if they sleep poorly—not men.

You may have heard that lack of sleep is linked with being overweight. Now a new study by Finnish researchers suggests which comes first—sleep problems, especially in women.

The study tracked middle-aged men and women over the course of five to seven years. Researchers found  that sleep problems—such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up several times in the night—were associated with weight gain of five kg or more in women, but not in men.

Poor sleep may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Not getting enough sleep can wreak havoc on the body’s metabolic regulation, according to new research out of the Netherlands.

Researchers found that getting just four hours of sleep may impair the body’s use of insulin by up to 25 percent. Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes (an inability to use insulin to control glucose from food), which, if left untreated, can lead to other illnesses including heart disease.

Sleeping too little – or too much – will pack on belly fat.

If you’re under 40, logging less than five hours, or more than eight hours of sleep every night, may lead to a greater accumulation of belly fat or “visceral” fat. The findings, by North Carolina researchers, ruled out other fat-causing factors including caloric intake, exercise habits, education and smoking.

This kind of deep abdominal fat is associated with increased risk of unhealthy conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure.

Poor sleep may hamper your exercise routine.

Getting less than four hours of sleep for a few nights in a row may cause you to curtail your normal fitness routine, according to findings by German researchers. The study participants, who lacked a full night’s sleep, also conducted less intense physical activity. Since the researchers did not find an increase in caloric intake or significant changes in hunger-related hormones, such as leptin or ghrelin, their findings support the theory that people are just too tired to exercise after a bad night’s sleep.

Too little sleep may trigger depression.

A recent study by Virginia researchers suggests that insomnia sufferers face a two- to five-fold increased of risk of developing depression. (There are no standard criteria for defining insomnia, however it is generally diagnosed when people have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep “most of the time.”) The researchers concluded that treating insomnia can help fend off depression.

Troubled sleeping boosts nighttime blood pressure

Studies have shown a correlation between people with insomnia and heart disease. Research by the University of Montreal may explain why: the central nervous system of troubled sleepers is hyperactive at night. In other words, insomniacs have higher rates of blood pressure at night than in the day.

What new moms think about their sleep habits could sway mood.

A new study by Australian researchers made a startling discovery: new moms’ perception of poor sleep and the conscious awareness of its impact on day-to-day activities are stronger predictors of immediate postpartum mood disturbances than the actual amount of sleep quality and quantity (which do decline). This perception of poor sleep might worsen subjective stress and frustration, resulting in a nasty cycle.

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Web exclusive, September 2010

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