Why Sleep Is Important To Your Health

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Susan Rubman Ph.D., director of the insomnia program at The Hospital of Central Connecticut Sleep Disorders Center, talks about why a good night’s sleep is crucial to your health.

Below are some questions with answers provided by Rubman.

What are the overall benefits of a good night’s sleep?

  • Feel rested and refreshed.
  • Improved attention, concentration and memory.
  • Improved health status.

Some doctors say it is best to get eight hours and you must get up at the same time and go to sleep same time daily to achieve proper balance, is this true?

  • Eight hours is an average, some people need more, some need less. The right amount of sleep depends on the individual.
  • Most people need at least 6 ½ hours of sleep to feel rested.
  • More important than going to bed at the same time, is getting up at about the same time each day.

What is the so-called “power sleeper” ? (Someone that can still function on only four hours per night). Is that healthy in the long run?

  • There are very few people who are naturally “short sleepers.”  Most people need more than 4 hours. We can learn to “make do” on 4 hours, but generally performance is impaired in both subtle and not so subtle ways with that amount of sleep on a regular basis.

What does lack of sleep do to your metabolism?

  • People who don’t get enough sleep may have metabolic changes that increase appetite and calorie intake.
  • There may be an effect on glucose tolerance.
  • Untreated sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Why can some people sleep for 12 hours (teens) and is that healthy? Is too much sleep dangerous?

  • There are lots of reasons that someone may sleep for 12 hours:
    • Teens naturally want to sleep later in the morning because of changes in their internal clock and sleep related hormone production.
    • Teens may sleep in to make up for sleep loss, secondary to early school start times and other commitments.
    • Sleeping for 12 hours regularly may be a sign of a specific sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or obstructive sleep apnea.
    • As with “short sleepers” there are a very few “long sleepers” for whom this is a normal pattern.

Are there some people that truly are “night owls” – they function best at night? Is that a chemical imbalance? (pineal gland)

  • There are absolutely ‘night owls!’  There are also “morning larks,” people who prefer early morning hours. It is part of their body’s overall circadian rhythm, or internal clock. It is only problematic if the individual’s sleep and wake times do not match with their work and social commitments.

What does daylight savings time do to your body overall? Can that extra hour of sunlight make a difference?

  • With the switch to Daylight Savings Time, we lose 30 to 60 minutes of sleep on at least the first night. In an individual who is already sleep deprived, this can be a significant difference and can impact levels of attention, concentration, memory. There are more motor vehicle accidents on the Monday following the change to DST than on any other work day.
  • The extra exposure to sun in the morning can help reset our body’s internal clocks.   It may also help to improve mood.
  • Sometimes it is more difficult to manage their bedtime routine on the day of the change.
  • They may be a little more sleep deprived on the following couple of days; it sometimes manifests as irritability, difficulty concentrating and attending to tasks like school.

What is REM sleep?

  • Rapid Eye Movement sleep is dream sleep.  It’s most important for memory consolidation and making sense of the events of the past day.

There are some over-the-counter medications for sleep. Are they dangerous in the long run?

  • Over-the-counter drugs are never a long-term solution for sleep problems. There are no data evaluating their safety for long term use. Over-the-counter drugs are risky for certain segments of the population, like the elderly.  For a problem with sleep that lasts longer than three weeks, individuals should consult with their doctor or a sleep professional.

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