It’s no secret that Americans don’t get enough sleep. But did you know that fewer than 40% of us get at least seven hours of sleep per night? That’s a serious problem, according to sleep researchers. On average, Americans are racking up sleep debt at an alarming rate — approximately 336 hours – or two entire weeks worth of sleep – every year. The benefits of sleep, both health and cognitive, might surprise you.
Benefits of Sleep: Diabetes
An eye-opening study by researchers at the University of Chicago highlighted several areas in which sleep prevents health problems. Eleven healthy, young adult men who voluntarily restricted their sleep to four hours per night for six days were in a pre-diabetic state by the end of the week. While we already knew that sleep is necessary for the brain, these findings on the benefits of sleep pushed sleep research into the deeper realm of potential medical problems.
Benefits of Sleep: Weight
A study that looked at nearly 1000 working adults in rural Iowa found that those who slept less had a higher BMI (Body Mass Index). The results were the same even when adjusted for confounding factors.
Yet another study, this one done in England, indicates that when children experience sleep deprivation at a very young age, they may be at a higher risk of obesity by age seven.
Benefits of Sleep: Teenagers
The effects of too little sleep are particularly harsh on teens. A Minnesota study assessed the sleepiness of 7000 high schoolers after switching to a later school starting time. Researchers found that the students were not only less sleepy, but also had higher grades and less depression than their earlier-bird counterparts. The benefits of sleep are obviously particularly important for this vulnerable group of growing people.
Dr. Mary Carskadon, a Brown School of Medicine sleep researcher, goes so far as to call early school start times “abusive”. Judging by the problems encountered by students who must be to school before 8:00am, she’s not far off the mark. Teenagers’ bodies need more sleep than ever – up to 10 hours – and their natural rhythms begin shifting to a later sleep schedule, making the insane wake-up time for school…well, insane.
Benefits of Sleep: Longer Life
Research teams from the University of California and the American Cancer Society found an interesting correlation between sleep and mortality: those people who got an average of more than four hours of sleep – but less than eight hours – had a lower risk of death, even after adjusting for elements such as age, nutrition and other health risk factors. Study participants getting between six and seven hours of sleep per night had the lowest mortality risk.
Benefits of Sleep: The Bottom Line
There’s nothing wrong with losing some sleep, as long as you make time to catch up every once in a while. Most people need at least six to seven hours of sleep per night to function at their optimum. Going overboard on sleep is just as bad for you as not enough, just make sure not to rob yourself of the benefits of sleep.