In April of this year, the Institute of Medicine issued a report that confirmed definite links between sleep deprivation and increased risks of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke.
Some scientists are also investigating connections between insufficient sleep and depressed immune function.
Sleep can work to activate or inhibit hormone production in the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that gives the body signals regarding when to adjust temperature, blood pressure, digestive secretions and immune activity. Insufficient sleep also inhibits the pancreas from producing insulin, the hormone required for the digestion of glucose.
A groundbreaking 1999 study showed that after six days on only four hours of sleep, healthy volunteers would fall into a pre-diabetic state. Sleep also gives the heart a chance to slow down, and those who less than six hours a night have as much as a 66 percent greater prevalence of hypertension.
The largest study of sleep duration and mortality followed over one million participants for six years. Those who slept about seven hours had the highest survival rate, and those who slept less than 4.5 hours had the worst. Nine hours of sleep or more each night was also associated with a higher mortality risk, however.In general, a good night's sleep seems to be as important to good health as a nutritious diet and regular exercise. Experts tend to agree that the majority of people require about eight hours of sleep each night.
However, roughly 40 percent of Americans get fewer than seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and 71 percent get fewer than eight hours of sleep. As a result, most Americans accumulate two full weeks of "sleep debt" each year. The two main causes for sleep debt were long work hours and long commutes.
One contributor to poor sleeping habits that has nothing at all to do with any other existing health problem you may have: A lengthy commute to and from a job can require a life-draining amount of time all by itself, according to recent research by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
That's only one of many sleep studies cited in this awesome Los Angeles Times article, most of which I've already posted on my Web site.
A longer commute -- navigating a maze of highways in the dark and in a car both day and night -- is only the number two reason people get less sleep, however. Spending long hours at work tops the list.
Before the study, scientists had speculated that excessive TV viewing, entertainment and computers would top the list of sleep distractions. However, what they found is, a combination of long hours on the job, a too-far commute and living in an area that forces people to drive anywhere to get anything is the deadliest of them all.
The trick is to keep your commute by car -- including all errands -- to 40 minutes or less a day. Every 8 extra minutes you spend in your car translates into a sleep debt of 15 minutes every night. And it doesn't matter if it's one long car trip or several short ones, either.
I am quite fortunate in that I only commute to my office four times a week and the round trip time is typically under 30 minutes and frequently closer to 20. I realized many years ago that I did not want to waste my time on the road.
Although nearly every minute I am in the car I am listening to an educational audio file as there is so much time to learn. If you do have a longer commute please consider your car as a "university on wheels" and a marvelous opportunity to learn important information.
If you're struggling with sleep, chances are better than good your health is fundamentally impaired. Fortunately, you can solve your sleep problem and boost your health in the process, without the need for a health-harming drug, by taking advantage of some of the practical solutions outlined in my 29 Secrets to a Good Night's Sleep, which include: