Sleep Awareness Week; March 2-9, 2014 – What is Your Sleep IQ

By  Susan Erdman

The Dalai Lama said, “Sleep is the best medicine.” How well do you sleep? Are you aware of all the health benefits of a good night’s sleep? Or are you yawning as you read this?

Our 21st century lives are busy with many items on our daily “to do lists.” Sleep is often the last thing we plan and the most overlooked part of our day and night.

Most people spend a third of their life sleeping and yet it remains somewhat of a mystery.
Years ago I remember seeing a poster for a presentation on stress reduction titled “I Am Woman. Hear Me Snore.” We can all laugh because it is common knowledge that we don’t get enough sleep. Getting the right amount of sleep is a key factor in our overall health and well being. There are many health consequences if we deprive ourselves of quality sleep. Here are a few:

  • If we skimp on sleep the consequences can lead to an increased risk for the development of Type 2 diabetes and increased risk for a number of cardiovascular diseases. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • According to a new study published online 1/21/2014 in the journal Cancer Research, “poor quality sleep can speed cancer growth, increase tumor aggressiveness and dampen the immune system’s ability to control or eradicate early cancers.”
  • Too much or too little sleep can increase the risk of depression, according to a new study. In the Feb. 1 issue of the journal “Sleep”, researchers studied over 1700 adult twins. They found that among those who got normal amounts of sleep (seven to nine hours a night), the genetic influence on symptoms of depression was 27 percent versus 53 percent for those who slept only five hours and 49 percent among those who slept 10 hours a night.
  • Dr. Eve Van Cauter, PhD, termed sleep deprivation “the royal road to obesity.” According to the National Sleep Foundation, her research shows that people who don’t sleep adequately have physiologic abnormalities that may increase appetite and calorie intake. “The level of leptin (an appetite stimulating hormone) falls in subjects who are sleep deprived, which promotes appetite. It suggests that at least one factor in obesity can be sleep deprivation. Because the psychological manifestations of fatigue, sleep and hunger are similar, as adults, we sometimes confuse them – we tend to eat when we’re actually sleepy, because we think fatigue is a sign of hunger.”
  • In his latest book Eat Move Sleep, best selling author Tom Rath writes that “one way to shed pounds is to replace an hour of television with an hour of sleep. This simple change could result in substantial weight loss over time.” Rath makes the important connection between eating, moving and sleeping well. “These three ingredients for a good day build on one another. When these elements are working together, they create an upward spiral and progressively better days.”

People in good health tend to sleep well, whereas those suffering from repeated sleep problems might have an underlying medical or mental health problem. It is important to discuss any major sleep changes with your physician to rule out a possible sleep disorder. If you do have problems with sleep due to an overscheduled life or stressors that lead you to worry, sleeplessness and lack of energy call The Living Well Network and talk with a counselor. You can also visit our website at www.livingwellfrontporch.org to learn the many pathways that can improve your sleep.

Susan Erdman is counselor for the Methodist Healthcare Employee Assistance Program, Memphis, Tennessee. She has a Masters Degree in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University in New Orleans and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Tennessee – Memphis. She has worked as an EAP counselor for the past 20 years.