Sleep, or not

As someone who has occasional problems with too little sleep, I’m always interested to see what the internet and other sources have to tell me about our experience with sleep.

Check out these headlines:

  • 30 Minutes Lost Sleep Can Lead to Weight Gain And Diabetes
  • Too Much Sleep Linked to 46% Higher Risk of Stroke
  • Lack of Sleep: How To Counter The Dangerous Health Effects
  • Why You Should Avoid Too Much Artificial Light At Night

Or these Google search results:

  • Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition: 10 Surprising Effects of Lack of Sleep – WebMD
  • 16 Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body – Healthline
  • Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition.…
  • 8 Scary Side Effects Of Sleep Deprivation – Huffington Post
  • The effects of sleep deprivation on surgeons — and their patients. Harvard Health
  • Sleep Deprivation: 7 Dangerous Effects
  • Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer. Harvard Business Review
  • From Zzzz’s To A’s – Adolescents And Sleep. A great concern of sleep researchers is that teens are so sleep-deprived.

Pretty crazy, isn’t it?

And this one, from one of my favorite health blogs: Missing a Single Night of Sleep Can Change Our Genes.

No doubt sleep problems—as in not enough sleep—are common. I frequently find myself awake at 3:00, hoping that I’ll be able to magically turn over and fall asleep. Sometimes I do fall back asleep, but sometimes I don’t.

But although I recognize that good sleep is a big part of health and well being, I resist the notion that irregular sleep patterns should be treated as a medical condition. I’m reminded of the way some foods were demonized during the early research into connections between foods and disease—remember the hype about the health benefits of margarine?

Just as we now recognize that lifestyle choices are a big part of maintaining a healthy weight, I think we can predict that for most people, lifestyle choices can have a big effect on quality of sleep. Yes, there are some weasel-words in that statement—I’m not proposing that no one needs medical intervention to help with sleep, just that it might be a good idea to explore the other options first.

Here’s a link to what the National Sleep Foundation has to say about sleep hygiene, in case you’re interested.

By the way, the title of the blog article above—Missing a Single Night of Sleep Can Change Our Genes—is a bit misleading. They are not saying that the genes themselves are changed; they are instead saying that the effects of a single night’s sleep can determine how a gene is regulated, or activated. The report also clearly states that although the changes have been observed, and those changes may increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, the study is too preliminary to draw definitive conclusions from. It’s just raising some questions for the next round of research. It’s as if we are seeing the first few jigsaw puzzle pieces of how a good night’s sleep fits in a healthy life. And like a jigsaw puzzle without the box, no one can yet predict what the final picture will look like.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to read the news about sleep science with curiosity and a healthy dose of skepticism.

2 thoughts on “Sleep, or not

  1. Jessica David

    Hmmmm…interesting. I usually wake up at 3 or 3:30 ish, as does my partner. And several folks I know report this as well. Why are we waking at about the same time????

  2. Leigh Post author

    Interesting! Unfortunately, I’m no expert. My best guess is that our circadean rhythms are in sync, perhaps, and maybe that affects when we experience the stages of sleep. Waking usually happens during REM sleep, which takes over after a period of deeper sleep at the beginning of the night.

    By the way, I just ran across an article (from 2012) that talks about this natural waking during the night. I like the idea that we can resist the pressure to see it as a problem that needs fixing–especially whent the default response seems to call for medication.

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