In today’s time-starved world, a good night’s sleep can seem like a frill. It’s not. In fact, sleep is one of the most critical—and most overlooked—components of health and well-being. You’ve probably spent enough sleepless nights to know that lack of sleep can lead to irritability, mental fuzziness and decreased productivity. What you may not know is that chronic sleep deprivation is linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, and now cancer.
In an alarming new study, researchers at Case Western found that people who averaged fewer than six hours of sleep a night were 50% more likely to develop colorectal adenomas, the precursors to colon cancer. That’s an increase in risk comparable to having a parent or sibling with colon cancer, or eating too much red meat.
Too little sleep, defined as less than seven hours a night, can cause anxiety, moodiness, depression and alcohol abuse. It can increase the inflammatory activators that raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, and disturb appetite regulation by causing your body to secrete less leptin, a hormone that tells you to stop eating.
So how can you get on track? Here are some tips I give my patients:
- Keep a sleep journal to help you identify which activities (watching television or drinking coffee or alcohol, for example) are interfering with your sleep.
- Set a bedtime and waking time to help regulate your body’s melatonin level. This is especially important as we age and our bodies produce less of this sleep-inducing substance.
- Develop a nightly ritual that includes dimming the lights, taking a hot bath or shower, and changing into comfortable pajamas that don’t overheat you.
- Make sure the television and computers are off a half hour before bed.
- Avoid caffeine after noon, don’t eat large meals within three hours of bedtime, and stay away from alcohol within 90 minutes of bedtime.
- Don’t alter your bedtime or waking time on the weekend. If you need more sleep on your days off, it means you’re not getting enough during the week.
- If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing, like reading or breathing exercises. But keep to your scheduled waking time.
Dr. Wayne Scott Andersen is the author of Dr.A’s Habits of Health – The Path to Permanent Weight Control and Optimal Health. His website and blog can be viewed at http://www.drwayneandersen.com/.
Dr. Andersen has been seen recently on Fox and Friends, Good Morning America’s Health and ABC’s, Talk of the Town in DC discussing his approach which allows for individuality and long-term sustainability of personal target weights and health goals. He is the co-founder of Take Shape for Life and Executive Director of the Health Institute, training and certification organization in the emerging field of health coaching. He also serves as a reviewer for Critical Care Medicine Journal in the area of nutrition. He has been a keynote speaker and presenter at medical and nutrition conferences across the United States and has been featured on numerous affiliate-based morning shows across the United States.