Too Little Sleep and Too Much Sleep Associated with Diabetes, Heart Disease, Anxiety, and Obesity

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Remember the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?  Goldilocks spent the entire story looking for the item that was “just right.”  She didn’t want the porridge that was too hot or too cold, but ate the porridge that was “just right.” She didn’t sleep in the bed that was too hard or too soft, but slept in the bed that was “just right.”   Like Goldilocks, scientists are finding that the “just right” amount of sleep is 7-9 hours.  This is the optimum duration to receive sleep health benefits.

In a recent study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers found that too little sleep and too much sleep are associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, and obesity.

Sleeping Boy

Short Sleepers

The study, published in the October issue of Sleep, identified the short sleepers as those who consistently slept for 6 hours or less.  Of the 54,000 participants found nationwide, 31% were identified as short sleepers. Compared to the optimal sleepers, short sleepers reported more prevalence of coronary heart disease,  diabetes, stroke, frequent mental distress, and obesity.

The western high tech lifestyle leads to this constant drive to work and do more with limited time constraints. Instead of putting things off for another day, people sacrifice sleep to continue to work around the clock.  Energy drinks such as Red Bull, Rock Star, and Monster are a multi billion dollar business and people are flocking to them because it can deliver the third wind needed to check everything off their to do list.  The large amounts of caffeine found in these products have been linked to heart palpitations, chest pain, and even seizures.  Top that off with sleep less than 6 hours regularly and you have a recipe for a health disaster.

European studies are finding similar results in relation to sleep duration and chronic disease.

EPIC or the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition looked to examine the relationship between sleep duration and chronic disease. In January 2013, they published their results in the PLOS ONE journal. 

They found that compared to the average sleeper, the short sleeper increased his/her chance of chronic diseases by 30%.  This was especially seen in incidence of stroke and cancer.  Stroke incidence occurred two fold and cancer incidence increased 40% compared to average sleepers.  Short sleepers also had elevated levels of ghrelin, an appetite stimulant that causes people to eat more, and lowered levels of leptin, the hormone that signals satiety, resulting in obesity.

Long Sleepers

Too little sleep was found to negatively impact health, but what about sleeping longer?  Does an excess of sleep lead to more health benefits?  What they found is that sleeping longer was not beneficial either.  Long sleepers were identified as those who consistently slept for 10 hours or more. Of the 54,000 participants only 4% were considered long sleepers.  In the CDC study, incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes was more pronounced with increased sleep. 

Dr. M. Safwan Badir, President of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, explains that sleeping longer does not mean you are sleeping well. A balanced healthy lifestyle should include diet, exercise, and sleep. Health is impacted by both the quantity and quality of sleep.

In the EPIC study, researchers found that the risk of stroke was increased by 65% in persons who reported long sleep durations. Long sleepers for the EPIC study were identified as people who slept 9 hours or more consistently. The long durations of sleep associated with chronic diseases such as stroke could be due to poor sleep quality and poor health at baseline.  More studies need to be conducted to rule out any sleep disorders.

Optimum Sleep

Dr. Badr recommends that adults should aim between 7-8 hours every evening.  This would be especially beneficial for adults who suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes, coronary heart disease, obesity, and anxiety.  For those that suffer from these chronic diseases, many suffer from chronic sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea.  For health, the “just right’ balance is a clean healthy diet, consistent exercise, and sleep for 7-8 hours everyday.


Journal Abstract: Sleep

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