We live in a society that burns the candle at both ends. We stay up too late and then wake up at the crack of dawn. We know better, but many of us do it anyway. In the short-run, an occasional night of inadequate sleep might affect your memory, judgment, or lack of concentration. However, long-term sleep deprivation can affect your health with significant consequences. A chronic lack of sleep is a known contributor for serious health conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obstructive sleep apnea.

Why research says 7-8 hours of sleep is best

Based on scientific research, it’s recommended the average adult should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. While these numbers are not set in stone for every single adult, it is considered a healthy amount of sleep for most people.

For instance, a 2010 study from the United Kingdom and Italy looked at whether inadequate sleep increased the risk of death. Researchers analyzed data from 16 separate studies for more than 25 years which included more than 1.3 million people. Findings showed those who lacked less than seven hours of sleep nightly, were 12 percent more likely to experience a premature death. Those who slumbered nine hours or more each night fared even worse – 30 percent higher risk of an early death.

We may not give it much thought, but likely we all agree a good night’s sleep makes us feel better. The level of alertness and enhanced energy are a couple of perks from sufficient shut-eye. The same goes for eating a certain amount of food each day. Eating and sleep are both regulated by powerful internal drives. If you lack food, you get an uncomfortable sensation of hunger. Eating relieves hungers. If you lack sleep, you become overly tired. Adequate sleep helps relieve feelings of tiredness.

Other health perks of 7-8 hours of sleep

  • Improves immune functioning

We know sleep is necessary for restoring and rejuvenating our bodies, including immune functioning. When sleeping, the immune system releases compounds called cytokines. These protective compounds help fight inflammation and our ability to fight off illnesses. Antibodies and white blood cells, components of the immune system necessary for keeping us healthy, may be reduced if we lack sleep. Results of a 2013 study found restricting sleep resulted in less cytokines being released and more inflammation occurring associated with increasing asthma and allergies.

  • Better weight control

Chronic sleep deprivation can cause excess weight gain. Feeling sleepy and sluggish often leads to seeking out food for a quick boost of energy.  If this happens several times a day, caloric intake rapidly adds up. 

There are also two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, affected by lack of sleep and are critical to weight gain or not.  Leptin tells us when to stop eating while ghrelin tells us it’s time to eat.  Lacking sufficient zzzz’s causes leptin levels to go down while ghrelin levels go up.  

Here’s another twist on having a sleep debt – it can alter brain chemicals making individuals unable to resist snacks, particularly for sweet and salty foods.  A 2015 study in the journal Sleep found sleep-deprived individuals had 33% higher levels of a chemical compound which increases the pleasant feelings of food, especially of sweet or salty high-fat foods.   Sweet and salty foods tend to be higher in calories which will make it harder for a person craving these foods to keep weight off. 

  • Healthier looking skin

Take a look at the largest organ of your body, your skin, and it might be telling you, “I need more sleep!”

Studies have shown there is a link between too few hours of snoozing and acne breakouts, which may be related to how sleep controls hormones in the body. Moisture levels in your skin will also suffer resulting in drier skin.

Dull, lifeless-looking skin is another result of not enough sleep. Every day, dead skin cells need to be sloughed off.  It’s when we sleep that surface skin cells undergo repair.

Want to avoid visible signs of aging such as crow’s feet and fine lines? Get to bed on time giving your body the chance and time it needs to refresh and renew after a good night’s sleep.

  • You’re more pleasant to be around

Lashing out at others, feeling irritable or moody, are not always necessarily because you are a difficult or unpleasant person.  It could be related to poor sleep. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that people who were limited to only 4 ½ hours of sleep each night, felt more stressed, angry, and mentally exhausted. Once they returned to normal sleeping habits and hours, the participants felt much better.

Lack of sleep may also increase depression. Generally, people who are depressed have poor sleep. What’s worse, is these conditions are circular – depression can lead to insufficient sleep and insufficient sleep can lead to depression

That groggy feeling you get from not enough sleep can affect your concentration and memory.  This can leave you feeling less productive or skilled at your job.  Even worse, when you are driving, you may find yourself wanting to nod off due to excessive sleepiness.

Doctors orders for a good night’s sleep

As you know by now, adequate sleep is necessary for good health.  If you’re falling behind on sleep, here are tips on getting the rest you need:

  • Stick to the same sleep schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Always make your bed every day – it makes a difference
  • Resist afternoon naps or keep them to no more than 20 minutes 
  • Avoid heavy meals and caffeine at least 3 hours before bedtime
  • Keep all electronics out of your bedroom – TV, cell phones, and laptops
  • Each day, get in moderate to vigorous exercise
  • Keep your bedroom set at a cool, comfortable temperature between 65 to 67 degrees 
  • Wear comfortable, lightweight clothing to bed

Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He is a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City. He is regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., trained in oncology, open, laparoscopic, and robotic surgery. He has a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.