8 surprising health benefits of quality rest

by Symptom Advice on December 27, 2011

By Deborah J. Botti Published: 2:00 AM – 12/21/11

Do you know what happens to rats that are deprived of sleep for two weeks? they die.

People, too, are adversely affected by lack of proper sleep. “There is a rare genetic mutation, fatal familial insomnia, in humans,” says Dr. Steven K. Grundfast, who’s affiliated with Crystal run Healthcare, Catskill Regional Medical Center and Orange Regional Medical Center. “Insomnia develops around age 40. the patient gets no sleep at all – and will die within two years.”

“Sleep deprivation (less than four hours sleep) equals an increase in mortality rates,” says Dr. Alan Schaffer, the medical director of Orange Regional’s Center for Sleep. “But too much sleep (more than 10 hours each night) also increases mortality rates. why is not clear.”

“everybody needs sleep,” says Grundfast, “although the amounts might differ. the average for adults is between six and eight hours – or about seven hours.”

Grundfast and Schaffer are board-certified in internal medicine, pulmonary disease, critical care and sleep medicine. they explain not only what happens when the head hits the pillow, but also some other taken-for-granted benefits.

“We’re in a reparative state when we sleep, restoring energy,” says Grundfast.

“There are changes in behavior, a loss of awareness, the eyes are closed, brain waves change, digestion slows – which is why it’s not advised to eat too close to bedtime – and the muscles relax,” says Schaffer, the latter of which is a good thing.

He points to a REM sleep behavior disorder in which the muscle tone is not as low as it should be and the person acts out his or her dreams by talking, jumping, hitting, kicking – to the dismay of the bed partner.

Along with repairing, refreshing and rejuvenating, here are some other benefits of sleep, according to the experts, that might not readily come to mind:

1. You’re better able to avoid car accidents. the responses of sleep-deprived students have been measured. “a light is flashed, and they’re asked to hit a button,” says Grundfast. “Sometimes they do, but there’s a longer response latency. and sometimes they don’t push the button at all.”

What if those lights aren’t generated in a lab but are headlights coming into your lane of travel, and you don’t respond? “Reflexes and reaction time while driving are slower with acute or chronic sleep deprivation,” says Schaffer.

So if you haven’t slept much this month because of conflicting work, school and holiday demands – or even if it was just last night that you only got a couple hours sleep – you’re putting yourself and everybody else on the road at risk for not celebrating the holidays next year.

2. You’re better able to ward off illness. Remember those sleep-deprived lab rats? What they died of was septicemia, or an overwhelming infection caused by the translocation of bacteria from the bowel, says Grundfast.

In simple terms, the hormones in control of proper immune response are unable to do what they’re supposed to do when the body has been denied its ability to restore and repair – and that includes keeping digestive bacteria where it belongs to mounting an army against infiltrating germs.

“We’re paying a lot more attention to this in critical-care units,” he says, historically known for their lights, beeping machinery and steady flow of nursing staff, which interferes with the deep sleep that ill patients require.

3. You’ll have an advantage in maintaining a healthy weight. as if food temptations aren’t enough to contend with, studies have found that those hormones connected to hunger are out of whack in people with sleep deprivation. Ghrelin, which thinner people have higher levels of and is produced during certain nighttime hours, tells the body when it’s full. Leptin, on the other hand, signals hunger. With too much leptin and not enough ghrelin, you eat when you don’t really require food, says Grundfast.

And probably because of the hormonal imbalances, people with sleep deprivation are more likely to be insulin resistant, a precursor to diabetes, says Schaffer.

When you’re tired, you’re more likely to reach for simple carbs to provide your body with instant fuel as opposed to the high-quality nutrition that it deserves. plus, that whole comfort-conditioning scenario comes into play, says Schaffer: as a baby, we cry, get fed and feel better. when we’re tired, we seek comfort.

4. You’re more likely to see a doctor in the emergency room who’s rested. up until about the early ’90s, part of medical training was to be on call for 24 hours – or longer.

“But there was a bad outcome, based on the intern’s impaired decision-making process, which called the on-call residency program system into question,” says Grundfast. “Today, if a resident is on call at night, in the morning (he or she) goes home.”

He says there have also been too many incidents of interns studying for the boards all night and then falling asleep and crashing on the way to the exam that they never get to take.

5. Students get better grades when they’re well rested. Learning, development, memory, intellectual function and informed decision-making are all tied to sleep, particularly REM sleep, says Schaffer. “I tell my kids all the time that a good night’s sleep is far more beneficial than studying to the bitter end. do they always listen to me …”

Because of the overall neurological effect that sleep has, it can be presumed that proper sleep enhances creativity – and just about every other inherent talent or learned skill in each individual’s repertoire.

6. Sleep might help you keep your job. being well-rested enables you to wow your boss with everything from easily meeting daily quotas to expressing brilliant ideas. Conversely, if you drag yourself to the job every day exhausted, you’re at greater risk for not only making more mistakes,but also actually falling asleep in front of your computer.“when we’re sleep-deprived, but active, we can keep going,” says Grundfast. “But when we do something monotonous, something that requires little effort, it’s easy to then fall asleep.”

Try explaining that to your boss – assuming you even make it into work on time.

7. the day might be brighter. “There are psychological consequences of sleep deprivation,” says Grundfast of the symptoms that can range from mood disturbances to hostile, aggressive or sometimes even violent behavior.

But the jury’s still out on whether it’s the depression that’s causing the insomnia or if it’s the sleep deprivation that’s leading to the depression.

Or, in other instances, is it the sleep deprivation that’s making mild depression worse, asks Schaffer.

8. the heart doesn’t sleep, but sleep helps the heart – and overall health.With sleep loss comes an increase in the markers for inflammation – and inflammation is associated with increased cardiovascular disease – among a score of other diseases that range from acid reflux to eczema to urinary tract infections.

“There’s a whole biochemical pathway that sleep plays a role in,” says Schaffer.

And to ensure a good night’s sleep, Schaffer encourages people to keep the three S’s in mind: “you should only be in bed for sleep, sickness and sex.”

Here’s some advice for getting a restful night’s sleep from Hudson Valley sleep-medicine specialists Dr. Steven K. Grundfast and Dr. Alan Schaffer.

From Grundfast:*Remember the rules of sleep hygiene. just as when you were a child, follow the same ritual to wind down with – brush your teeth, wash your face, read a magazine.

*Never eat or work in bed.

*Don’t go to sleep until you’re tired; lying in bed awake will create anxiety.

*Avoid reliance on medications – prescription or OTC.

*Both Grundfast and Schaffer say that if you don’t fall asleep within 15-20 minutes, get out of bed and go into another dimly lit room. do not turn on your computer, and if you must watch TV, do so from a distance. Keep the noise and light down, drink some warm milk, and if you’re going to read, choose something boring – not the Stephen King story or other novel that you don’t want to put down.

From Schaffer:*Avoid alcohol, which is a central nervous system depressant and can lead to rebound insomnia, where one wakes up a few hours after going to sleep – and is wide awake.

*Be aware of homeostatic and circadian drives. Circadian rhythms explain the natural decrease in the level of alertness, “such as after lunch, which is why some cultures have siestas,” he says. “not because they’re lazy.” the homeostatic sleep drive explains the desire to sleep after wakefulness – and activity. People who exercise tend to sleep better because more ATP is burned, increasing a chemical in the blood that’s a natural sleep aid.

*Transitional – the period of falling asleep.

*Light sleep – about half the night.

*Deep or delta sleep – occurs early in the night, but declines with age. You’ve awoken from a deep sleep when you wonder where you are.

*REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep. the brain is very active during this time, says Dr. Alan Schaffer. “although it’s not clear what it means, the belief is that the brain is consolidating memory, processing the day.”

*Wake – the body naturally cycles every one-and-a-half to two hours between REM and non-REM sleep, says Schaffer.

“Someone with sleep apnea can be in bed 8 to 10 hours, but wake unrefreshed because of fragmented sleep,” says Dr. Steven K. Grundfast. “Breathing is cut off over and over again – signaling the brain to keep waking up because it’s sensing something is wrong.”

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