You’re right that sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on health. Perhaps the most striking link comes from studies showing that the less people sleep, the more likely they are to become obese. And, as you know, obesity increases the risk of a long list of diseases. In 2005, researchers at Columbia University in New York published an analysis of 10 years worth of data from nearly 10,000 people nationwide showing that individuals between the ages of 32 and 49 who slept four hours or less per night were 73 percent more likely to be obese than those who reported sleeping between seven and nine hours per night. The same study showed that people who got only five hours of sleep had a 50 percent higher risk of obesity than those who were getting a full night’s rest.
Laboratory studies also suggest that sleep deprivation may elevate the body’s production of stress hormones, raise blood pressure and boost blood levels of substances that are responsible for increasing inflammation, which appears to be a major risk factor for heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and even obesity.
I discussed your question with Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., director of the Circadian Health Associates and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. He emphasized that sleep loss and poor quality sleep are often central contributors to health concerns, and that good sleep is critical to good health. He suggested an evaluation of your personal sleep pattern and related habits in order to address them productively. You might want to consider a consultation at a sleep care center in your area (to find one go to the Web site for the National Sleep Foundation) or try to find solutions via Dr. Naiman’s software program, The Sleep Advisor®.
Andrew Weil, M.D.