I have a bad habit that I need to kick. I go to bed late. No, it’s not like abusing drugs or alcohol, but I’m learning more and more that something as innocent as lack of sleep could have lethal consequences.
My excuse for sleeping so little is that there’s too much to do and too little time to do it. And I’m not alone. In the last 50 years, sleep duration in the United States has decreased 1.5 to 2 hours per night per person. But I’m ready to face the cold, hard reality that not getting enough sleep, will give us less time not more. Study after study is pointing to an undeniable connection between lack of sleep and heart disease.
It’s not enough that I eat well, don’t smoke and exercise daily. The sobering fact is that people over 45 who sleep less than 6 hours a night are twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack than those getting 6 to 8 hours of zzz’s a night.
“Poor quality sleep is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes,” St. Joe’s Sleep Specialist Thomas Gravelyn, MD, told me when I complained about my lack of shuteye.
“And you just plain don’t function well if you don’t get good sleep,” he said. Add to that the growing bags under my eyes and I’m finally starting to rethink my sleep habits.
But it’s not the increased puffiness around my eyes that I should be worried about. It’s the increased calcium deposits in my arteries that may be connected to lack of sleep. Several years ago, there was a study that found C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, is found at higher levels in those who get fewer than six hours of sleep. And this lack of sleep could turn into a vicious cycle as lack of sleep leads to cardiovascular disease, and cardiovascular disease may end up messing with my sleep.
So I’m setting a new goal and hope you’ll join me on this. I’m shooting for a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. I know it will help not just my heart but my stress levels, my mental state and my immune system. We would encourage a close friend or family member to stop smoking or lose weight. Let’s encourage each other to go to bed.
For more information about sleep health, visit www.stjoesannarbor.org/sleep.