Can you imagine the entire population of Bloomington, Illinois lying awake night after night, tossing, turning and unable to get the sleep the need?
It boggles the mind. But that’s LESS than the number of folks the CDC says are struggling with sleep problems such as chronic insomnia in the United States alone.
The picture is pretty grim.
Up to 70 million Americans struggle with poor sleep. It’s gotten so bad experts are referring to it as an epidemic. And according to a CDC study over 35 percent of us are getting less than the recommended seven hours of shuteye a night.
We’re not just stumbling around looking a little worse for wear after another sleepless night, either. That lack of sleep comes with some serious consequences.
Experts estimate that nearly 40 percent of us have accidently fallen asleep during the day sometime in the last month. And nearly five percent are willing to admit that unwanted visit from the Sandman happened while we were behind the wheel of our cars.
Which is why it’s not surprising to learn that sleep deprivation contributes to countless car accidents, industrial accidents and medical mistakes.
But wait, it gets worse.
5 chronic conditions linked to insomnia
If you aren’t getting the sleep you need, your risk for a number of chronic conditions and diseases shoots through the roof.
Following are five ways chronic insomnia can literally ruin your health.
If you’re regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep a night chances are you’re packing on the pounds too.
When you burn the candle at both ends, it stimulates your body to pump out more of the hunger hormone gherlin. That can give you a serious case of the munchies leading you to overeat.
In fact, in one study folks who didn’t get enough sleep ended up swallowing an extra 300 calories a day, adding up to 2,100 extra a week. Meanwhile, another recent study found that short sleepers are more sedentary than their peers who are getting enough shuteye.
In other words, insomnia can cause us to eat more and move less. And that’s practically a recipe for gaining weight and obesity.
Plus sleep deprivation can slow your metabolism down to a crawl. Scientists say it’s likely because your body naturally slips into energy conservation mode when you’re tired.
Since poor sleep can cause you to gain weight, it’s probably no surprise to learn it could raise your risk for type 2 diabetes too. But you might be shocked to find out just how strong the connection appears to be.
One study revealed that folks who find themselves fighting off sleep during the day are 56 percent more likely to develop diabetes. And a meta-analysis published in the journal Diabetes Care found sleeping less than seven hours a night is linked to a significant increase in risk for the disease.
3. Memory loss and dementia:
Missing an appointment or forgetting to pay a bill could just mean you’re distracted. But it also may be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep. Because poor sleep can leave us unable to, properly, retain memories.
While we sleep our brains sort through all of the new information we’ve been exposed to, extracting meaning and details and cementing the important things in our memory. But when we don’t get enough REM sleep (that’s the stage where we dream), that process gets interrupted leaving us forgetful.
But feeling a bit muddled when your short term memory is on the fritz is only half the story. Thing can go downhill from there. Experts say chronic insomnia could raise your risk for dementia.
When Australian researchers combed through 19 years of sleep data a troubling pattern emerged. Folks who spent less time in REM sleep had a significantly higher risk for developing some sort of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease.
For each percentage point drop in REM, there was a nine percent jump in dementia risk. And that increase in risk remained even after they adjusted for other factors such as depression, heart disease and any medications the volunteers were taking.
If your sleep problems make you feel a bit grumpy, count yourself lucky. Because for countless others the effects of insomnia are far worse.
A study published in the journal Sleep, found if you suffer from chronic insomnia, you’re 10 times more likely to develop depression.
And while scientists haven’t been able to say for sure which comes first, insomnia or depression, research by the National Institute of Mental Health has shed some more light. Eight seven percent of the study participants who resolved their insomnia issues with therapy had their depression symptoms resolve within eight weeks.
5. Heart disease:
It turns out insomnia may be hurting your heart too. An ever growing stack of studies has linked poor sleep with a number of risk factors for heart disease including high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol.
In one long term study researchers tracked volunteers sleeping habits for over fourteen years. Women who slept no more than four hours a night were twice as likely to die from heart disease as the ladies who clocked in at seven or more hours a night.
And a recent US study confirmed that very short sleepers (those who snoozed for less than five hours a night) are at a significantly higher risk for heart problems. They were twice as likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol as people who slept around seven to eight hours a night.
Short sleepers who got a bit more sleep, between five and six hours, were still 20 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, according to the study published in the journal Sleep Medicine.
And other research found that adults who slept less than five hours a night had 50 percent more calcium buildup in their arteries than folks who slept seven.
Tackle your insomnia naturally
Not getting enough “beauty sleep” can ruin a heck of a lot more than just your looks. It can be disastrous for your health, too.
It’s time to get serious about tackling your insomnia. If stress has you tossing and turning at night, try some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or meditation. There are free apps for your smartphone that can help you learn both. Or check YouTube for easy-to-follow videos.
If you’ve been struggling with insomnia for some time you might need some help resetting your internal clock.
Start with a new sleep routine. Set a strict bedtime and wakeup time that allows you to get seven to eight hours of shuteye a night… and stick to it. At least one hour before bed, switch off ALL electronics. And ban work from the bedroom. Save the bed for sleeping and sex only.
Next, you might want to try melatonin. Your body already makes this natural hormone which rises before bedtime to help you sleep.
If you make too little melatonin (more common as we age)—or simply need some extra help resetting your circadian rhythms—a melatonin supplement could help. We suggest you look for a spray rather than a pill which can break down before your body is able to absorb enough of it. A couple of squirts every night can have you back on track and getting the best sleep of your life in no time.
Don’t let sleep problems ruin your health. Tackle your insomnia now before it’s too late.