How a Lack of Sleep Affects Your Body

Boy, it sure can be a challenge to get a good night’s sleep these days. Maybe it’s because of our stretched-to-the-max schedules, our mounting stress, or our reliance on electronic devices. But regardless of the cause, it seems that more and more of us are wide awake when we need to be catching some shuteye.

Brian Meusborn, PA-C, a physician assistant on the medical staff at Texas Health Family Care in Flower Mound, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, sees increasing numbers of sleep-deprived patients. Meusborn believes that sleep is a hot topic at the moment because many of us are simply not getting enough. In fact, he believes a lack of sleep is emblematic of American life today.

“Based on my practice, it’s clear that North Texans are not getting enough sleep, and I believe that deficit is a bigger issue here in the U.S. than in other parts of the world,” Meusborn shares. “I have patients who were born in other parts of the world who tell me they were never tired, overweight or stressed until they came to America. To me, the larger issue is how inadequate sleep causes so many health problems.”

Meusborn says the symptoms of not enough sleep are lengthy. Among them:

  • Lack of focus
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lightheadedness
  • High blood pressure
  • Lower cognitive functioning
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Lack of motivation
  • Higher susceptibility to infections and injury
  • Slow healing from illness and injury

In addition, lack of sleep can make chronic illnesses worse, and contribute to slower recovery in those who work out, and slow growth in children, Meusborn adds.

Screen Time, Sleep Time

Why do so many of us have a tough time getting a good night’s rest? Meusborn believes one of the biggest deterrents to good sleep is the abundance of electronic devices that seem to dominate our daily lives.  He muses that the absence of cell phones and computer screens in our grandparents’ lives may explain why they slept better and more soundly.

Brian Meusborn, PA-C, Physician Assistant

“Many of my patients seem addicted to their devices,” Meusborn explains. “In some cases, we don’t even have eye-to-eye contact because they’re looking at their phones or watches while we’re discussing a medical issue. Ironically, we’re often talking about why they’re not sleeping well, and many tell me they’re on their phone or computer or watching TV right before bedtime. It’s no wonder our electronics are taking a toll on our sleep.”

So, how much sleep should we be getting? Meusborn says that sleep requirements differ in each person and by age, but as a general rule, children and teenagers, whose bodies are growing, need an average of 8-10 hours of sleep each night. Our sleep needs typically decline as we age: Individuals in their 20s, 30s and 40s normally need 6-8 hours each night. Older individuals need 6-7 hours each night.

What about naps?

“Naps are a must for children, and they’re a great luxury for adults on a weekend,” Meusborn explains. “But adults who have difficulty getting to sleep need to break the habit of routine naps because they give patients a burst of energy during the day that prevents them from getting to sleep at a normal time at night. Occasional naps are fantastic, but I don’t advocate daily napping for healthy adults.”

Remedy for a Good Night’s Sleep

The good news is that we’re in the driver’s seat and can make choices to re-train ourselves to sleep better. Meusborn offers these tips:

  • Mealtime: Avoid eating right before bed. When you go to bed soon after you’ve eaten, your body will spend energy digesting your meal, disrupting sleep and keeping you from getting a good night’s rest.
  • Eat healthy meals: Eat healthy foods to promote proper digestion.  If you’re eating unhealthy foods and not watching what you eat, your diet will inhibit gut function.  You won’t feel well, and the resulting bloating, gas and nausea will keep you from sleeping well.
  • Avoid screen time: Stay off all electronic devices — that also means TVs — for a minimum of 30 minutes before bedtime.  Keep screens away from the bed. Looking at devices in bed trains our brain to expect a screen and keeps us from falling asleep.
  • Get moving: Exercise plays a huge role in promoting good sleep at night by releasing sleep-inducing hormones, inducing fatigue and contributing to weight loss and other health benefits. But people who have trouble falling asleep should avoid working out 2-3 hours before bedtime because it can increase heart rate, blood pressure and hormones that may ‘wire’ them for a couple of hours after exercise.
  • Curb your alcohol, caffeine and tobacco use: Avoid alcohol and caffeine within three hours before bedtime. Drinking too closely to bedtime disrupts quality sleep, as does caffeine.  Quitting smoking or other tobacco use is a must for good sleep.  Tobacco is a stimulant and plays havoc with rest.    
  • Read labels: It’s always smart to read drug labels, and that applies to both prescribed and over-the-counter medicine.  Certain medications can affect sleep, so arm yourself with that knowledge when taking meds.
  • Strive for good health: Live a healthy lifestyle accented by a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Drink plenty of water and get some exercise each day.  If you don’t currently exercise, start slowly with a short walk and build up the length over time.

By making these choices, you’ll be making important steps toward getting a better night’s sleep! If you’d like to speak to a physician about your sleep habits, visit our website to find a physician.

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