Sleep Disorders

The Effect of Poor Sleep on Health


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Summary & Participants

Sleep is necessary to feel refreshed, but now we know sleep actually impacts the way the body functions. Sleeping poorly can affect how often you get sick, your weight and, for children, how well they grow. Learn why sleep can mean more than just a good night's rest.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2009

Webcast Transcript


ANNOUNCER: For as long as there have been mothers, there have been people telling us to "get a good night's sleep." But what exactly is "a good night's sleep?"

ELLEN MILLER, MD: Adequate sleep is enough sleep so that we feel refreshed and able to function the following day. The amount of hours in bed is not as important; it's different from person to person.

EVE VAN CAUTER, PhD: Sleep loss, I think, is best defined individually in relation to what the person's sleep need is.

ANNOUNCER: And sleep loss can produce more consequences than just a few yawns the next day.

ELLEN MILLER, MD: Besides just not feeling well, we're not as sharp, we're not as quick to respond, we can have more traffic accidents, we're not as sharp in the workplace. It can lead to mood disorders; many people who don't get enough sleep, they develop depression. If we don't get the right amount of sleep for our bodies, it can have a lot of effects on our health.

ANNOUNCER: And while many people who don't get enough sleep may just have a vague feeling of not being at their best, in fact their bodies could be registering real problems.

EVE VAN CAUTER, PhD: So all the reactions, the physiological reactions to sleep deprivation or sleep loss are maladaptive, because we don't have mechanisms to adapt to sleep too little, because that's not part of our biology.

ANNOUNCER: In other words, studies have shown some potentially serious physical consequences can arise as a result of chronic sleep loss.

EVE VAN CAUTER, PhD: Sleep loss has an adverse effect on our ability to metabolize sugar. In one week of severe sleep deprivation, such as four hours per night, a healthy, lean, fit volunteer will be in a pre-diabetic state.

With sleep loss, we have also noticed an increase in hunger and appetite and profound alterations in hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. Such that, when you're sleep-deprived, you may overeat well in excess of the caloric demands, and, therefore, sleep loss is probably also a risk factor for weight gain and obesity.

ANNOUNCER: Lack of sleep can set off a variety of hormonal changes, affecting our mood and even our growth.

EVE VAN CAUTER, PhD: Cortisol, which is a stress hormone, and normally cortisol is very low in the evening, because it sort of prepares us for a relaxed state to go to sleep. But in a state of sleep debt, cortisol levels in the evening are elevated. So somehow, a state of sleep loss is read as a stressor.

ELLEN MILLER, MD: As young girls and boys enter puberty, they have pulsations of different hormones from their brain that put them into puberty. And these pulsations occur at night while they're sleeping. So if they are not on a normal sleep-wake cycle, this can interfere with the pulsatile secretion of these hormones and it can affect when and how they go through puberty. And with going through puberty, affects their height and their growth.

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