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The potential health costs of that extra hour

Posted in: General Health 16 Mar, 2012

We’ve all done it. Faced with just 24 hours in a day, sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth it to spend eight of these precious hours in bed. Think of all the things you could be doing instead. Those reports you need to write, the laundry that needs ironing, the programme you wanted to watch. It’s easy to forget or underestimate the harm that sleep deprivation can do, both short and long term, to your health. That extra hour you delay going to bed may seem fairly innocuous, but the extra hours all add up.

Numerous studies have been done to illustrate the health costs that are associated with sleep deprivation, but the results of such studies have done little to curb the impulse that most people frequently experience to put off going to bed just a little bit longer. People generally tend to experience very busy lives, often juggling work and home life, and sleep is often compromised in favour of maintaining this balance. The short-term benefits of this are evident, but the long-term health costs should not be dismissed so easily.

This is not to say that there aren’t short-term health costs of sleep deprivation as well. Losing just an hour or so of sleep from the recommended eight hours can cause lethargy, irritability and difficulties retaining information. When considered long-term, the costs become more serious. Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

Obesity is an increasing focus in various health studies, and sleep deprivation is no exception. Studies have been able to demonstrate a clear link between sleep deprivation and weight gain, with one study in particular proving that people who had fewer than six hours sleep each night had a significantly increased likelihood of being overweight. In comparison, those who enjoyed the recommended eight hours had lower levels of body fat.

Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for diabetes because a lack of sleep has an effect on insulin resistance, which can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. According to studies, sleeping for less than five hours per night has a significant effect on the risk of developing this form of diabetes. Cardiovascular problems, for example hypertension, are a potential consequence of losing just one or two hours sleep per night.

It may seem that new studies warning of potential health risks take place every day, with almost everything we do associated with some problem or another. It is easy - and certainly tempting - to ignore warnings such as those discussed above, dismissing them as just an overreaction, when there are more pressing health concerns to consider. However, if you are concerned about your health, the number of hours you sleep is something you can easily control. Fulfilling the exercise requirements of 30 minutes per day and eating five portions of fruit or vegetables can be a difficult task, but allotting in the recommended hours of sleep is comparatively effortless.

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