Poor Sleep Can Lead to a Host of Long Term Health Problems, NSF Publishes New Sleep Criteria

How awake are you? The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School spends its waking hours studying the health and science of sleep. It turns out that shortchanging your sleep or hitting the snooze button regularly can not only interrupt your sleep cycle, energy levels, and productivity, but can also pose serious health risks. High quality sleep is important for physical, mental and emotional well being with real benefits to the body:

“While sleeping well is no guarantee of good health, it does help to maintain many vital functions. One of the most important of these functions may be to provide cells and tissues with the opportunity to recover from the wear and tear of daily life. Major restorative functions in the body such as tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis occur almost exclusively during sleep.”

Yet according to Harvard Health Publications, one in five Americans gets less than six hours of sleep a night rather than the recommended seven to nine hours for adults ages 26 to 64. In 2015 the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), a respected authority on sleep, sleep disorders, sleep medicine and advocate for sleep education, published new recommendations for appropriate daily sleep duration for various age groups. With contributions from multidisciplinary experts across anatomy, physiology, neurology, gynecology, gerontology, and pediatrics, and support from organizations like the American Association of Anatomists, American Neurological Association, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Pediatrics, and more, the NSF performed a rigorous, scientifically-backed review of global published studies on sleep and health and came to a consensus.

Woman Sleepless Night

Two new age categories emerged from the report: “younger adults” ages 18 to 25, whose sleep range is between seven and nine hours, and “older adults” ages 65+, whose sleep range is between seven and eight hours. The broad adult age group’s (ages 26 to 64) recommended sleep duration did not change, remaining at between seven and nine hours. The “newborns” category at zero to three months was the only range that narrowed to 14 to 17 recommended daily hours of sleep from 12 to 18 hours. All other age categories increased in the recommended sleep duration by between one and two hours from “infants” at four to 11 months to “teenagers” ages 14 to 17.

Researchers and medical professionals agree that even a modest decrease in sleep of one to two hours nightly on a consistent basis can have adverse effects on health, including increased stress, headaches, decreased ability to concentrate, and a weakened immune system. More significant lapses in regular sleep bear major long-term health consequences, putting individuals at risk for chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and more.

Differences in cultural traditions and attitudes, sleep patterns, sleep partners, and sleeping locations all impact the way people have viewed and practiced sleep for centuries across the globe. Contemporary American culture moves at an increasingly fast pace with a focus on technology, mobile applications, and social media — all of which seemingly do not slow or turn off at any point.

Additionally, many working adults spend an excess of eight hours a day on the clock and potentially hours in traffic daily, leaving little room for the critical rest needed to decompress and recuperate overnight. Experts agree that getting high quality sleep on a consistent basis is just as important to overall health as regular exercise and balanced nutrition. Yet cultural practices suggest an inclination toward maximizing what can be accomplished in a day by limiting sleep.

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