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Sleeplessness Declared Public Health Epidemic in America

Society must begin to view sleep as necessity, not luxury

TROY, Ohio (February 17, 2014) – We live in a time where every minute counts and days don’t seem long enough to accomplish all that needs to be done.

The solution seems simple to some: simply expand our days by shrinking the amount of time we spend sleeping at night. However, leading health organizations say the decision to skimp on sleep has a major effect on one’s health and is now causing a public health epidemic.

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Off Site Icon declared sleeplessness a public health epidemic – citing a correlation between unhealthy sleep patterns and chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression and early death. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but according to the CDC, one out of three American adults says he or she routinely get less than seven.

“It is a misunderstanding that we can function properly on little sleep,” said Irina Gendler, MD, from Troy Primary Care Physicians. “It is a habit for our community to think that we can function on six hours or less of sleep. We power through workouts, organize social gatherings, complete projects and think we are doing fine when in reality we are nothing more than walking zombies.”

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Off Site Icon, sleep loss is one of the most underestimated causes of disruption to a person’s quality of life. Working hours are constantly increasing along with an emphasis on active leisure. The result is a society that thinks it can live on less sleep.

“The biggest question becomes why do those who get less sleep think that they are functioning just fine?” Dr. Gendler said. “Our brain is trained to respond to change, and it will quit sending messages to the body that it is exhausted because that is already old news.”

Insufficient sleep has a significant impact on one’s health. It can increase the level of hormones that regulate appetite – putting us at risk for overeating and unnecessary snacking during the day. A study out of the University of ChicagoOff Site Icon suggests that people who sleep less weigh more on average and have a lower immunity. Studies also show that people who lack sleep are 55 percent more likely to cause an accident while driving, Dr. Gendler said.

Most sleep deprivation is caused by a choice. But in other cases, lack of sleep can be connected to a deeper health issue. Sleep issues such as chronic insomnia, sleepwalking, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea all play a part in keeping individuals from getting the sleep they need. Aaron Kaibas, DO, a cardiologist with Upper Valley Cardiology, said patients are referred to him on a regular basis whose heart health issues – such as hypertension – are often caused by a sleep issue such as sleep apnea.

“Sleep apnea is one of the most common issues we are running into especially with our society becoming much more overweight than it has ever been before,” Dr. Kaibas said.

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious and life-shortening consequences including high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease, according to the American Sleep Apnea AssociationOff Site Icon. In most cases, Dr. Kaibas said patients are often unaware they are experiencing poor quality sleep. Rather, it is a spouse or significant other who notices that sleep is being interrupted by snoring or even ceased breathing. Dr. Gendler said it’s time society understands the importance of sleep.

“The first step is acceptance: We need to see it as a problem,” she said. “We need to quit considering sleep a luxury and do that we need to make major changes in our life.”

Dr. Gendler suggests that individuals change their sleep patterns gradually. Those who want to extend the amount of time they sleep at night should try going to bed 15 minutes earlier each week until they reach the optimum seven to nine hours. Individuals who are struggling to get a proper amount of sleep at night outside of personal choice should consult with their physician.

For more information on sleep or to find a physician near you, visit www.uppervalleyprofessionalcorp.com.

Content Updated: December 1, 2014

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