Sleep Habits: More Important Than You Think
Chronic Sleep Deprivation May Harm Health
The good news for many of the disorders that cause sleep deprivation is that
after risk assessment, education, and treatment, memory and cognitive deficits
improve and the number of injuries decreases.
In the long term, the clinical consequences of untreated sleep disorders are
large indeed. They are associated with numerous, serious medical illnesses,
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Psychiatric problems, including depression and other mood disorders
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Mental impairment
- Fetal and childhood growth retardation
- Injury from accidents
- Disruption of bed partner's sleep quality
- Poor quality of life
Studies show an increased mortality risk for those reporting less than
either six or seven hours per night. One study found that reduced sleep time is
a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood
pressure, and heart
disease. Sleep disturbance is also one of the leading predictors of
institutionalization in the elderly, and severe insomnia triples the mortality
risk in elderly men.
Remarkably, sleep loss may also be a contributing factor to obesity. John
Winkelman, MD, PhD, medical director of the Sleep Health Center at Brigham and
Women's Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical
School sums up this finding up nicely: "What most people do not realize is that
better sleep habits may be instrumental to the success of any weight management
plan." And Michael Thorpy, MD, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at
Montefiore Medical Center in New York adds, "Any American making a resolution
to lose weight ... should probably consider a parallel commitment for getting
It is also important to realize the huge scope and prevalence of these
disorders; more than 85 sleep disorders are recognized by the American Sleep
Disorders Association, affecting more than 70 million Americans. Up to
one-third of Americans have symptoms of insomnia; however, less than 10% of
those are identified by primary-care doctors. Sleep-related breathing disorders
represent a spectrum of abnormalities that range from simple snoring to sleep
apnea (repeated episodes of cessation of breathing during sleep). As highly
prevalent as they are, most cases remain undiagnosed and untreated.
- Chronic snoring, for example, is associated with an increased incidence of
heart and brain-related diseases. It is present in about 45% of the U.S.
population; up to half of those have sleep apnea.
- The prevalence of sleep apnea is on par with diabetes and asthma. More than
20 million Americans -- 24% of adult men and 9% of adult women -- are estimated
to have some degree of obstructive sleep apnea. Only a fraction have been
diagnosed and treated.
- Sleep apnea is a primary risk factor for high blood pressure; as many as
40% of those people are undiagnosed and untreated for high blood pressure.
Effective treatment of sleep apnea in patients with high blood pressure leads
to a substantial reduction in stroke risk.
- Patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea perform as poorly as drunk
drivers and have up to a 15-fold increased risk of motor vehicle
With the wealth of information and treatment options available for sleep
deprivation, much of the suffering, illness from the many related diseases,
increase in accident rates, and effects on productivity, performance,
concentration, and memory can be avoided. Increased awareness is the first
step, for us individually and the health care community. Some researchers
suggest that sleep deprivation should be recognized with the same seriousness
that has been associated with the societal impact of alcohol.