Even if you’re healthy and have a regular diet and exercise routine, sleep deprivation poses some serious risks. According to a new study, middle-aged, normal-weight people aged 45 and older who get less than 6 hours of sleep a night can quadruple their risk of a stroke.
According to sleep experts, healthy adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. However, as many as 1 in 3 U.S. workers regularly get less than 7 hours. “The really important take-home message is this: Don’t blow it off,” said Megan Ruiter, the University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher leading the study. “Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise.”
Ruiter and her research group reviewed data from 30,239 people participating in a Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study. 5,666 of these people were healthy at the beginning, with no history of stroke or stroke symptoms, no “mini-strokes” or attacks, and no high risks of sleep apnea or other sleep-related breathing problems. They eliminated everyone else who was at a high risk.
Once the group looked more closely at the participants’ lifestyles, sleep habits, and weights, they came upon some surprising results. Those who fell in normal weight categories with a BMI of 18.5 to 25 and reported sleeping less than 6 hours a night had as much as 4.5 times greater risk than those who sleep 7 or 8 hours a night. Strangely, the increase was not noticed in obese people with similar sleep habits.
Chronic sleep deprivation may increase stroke risk due to changes in autonomic body functions including heart rate, inflammation, blood pressure, and glucose levels. More research will be needed to determine whether short sleep patterns actually causes more full-blown strokes for the REGARDS participants, but so far, the results suggest that middle-aged people need to prioritize sleep as much as they do diet or exercise.
The average lifestyle of adults in the developed world isn’t aiding the amount of sleep we get. I’m grateful to work at home now so I can wake up without an alarm clock and let my natural needs for sleep run the course, but it’s a different story for people who spend 8 or more hours a day in an office and an hour or two commuting, then coming home to squeeze in chores, errands, a good meal and maybe a workout for the sake of their health. Sleep is hard to make a priority when there is so much to get done.
How many hours of sleep do you get every night? Do you notice a difference in the way you feel if your sleep patterns change?