Sweet Dreams: Recent Sleep Studies Reveal Health Risks Of Sleep Deprivation

Humans are meant to get about seven hours of sleep per night, meaning that we supposedly spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. It doesn’t often feel that way. Whether you have a hectic work schedule that keeps your head from hitting the pillow or you’re a parent who can’t seem to catch any shut-eye, sleep is skilled at evading us all.

While half of adults claim that they visit their dentist every six months, many don’t prioritize getting enough sleep in the same way. Recent studies have revealed how sleep habits change when you have children and just how sleep deprivation can impact your health. Let’s take a look at what these studies have to say and how you can start snoozing peacefully when you fall behind on sleep.

Studies on sleeping

The journal Sleep recently published research that focused on the shift in sleeping patterns that comes after one of life’s most significant milestones: children. A large panel study in Germany sought to examine the changes in sleep duration and satisfaction for mothers and fathers after having children.

As you probably expected, these two factors sharply declined during the first three months postpartum, with women more strongly affected. Perhaps more unexpectedly, both men and women didn’t fully recover their pre-childbirth levels of sleep duration and satisfaction for up to six years after having their first child.

Another study in the most recent issue of Current Biology looked at the effects of sleep deprivation and whether it’s possible to effectively catch up on it. A group of young, healthy adults stayed in a sleep lab for the study. Researchers restricted some participants to sleeping no more than five hours per night for five days in a row.

According to study author Christopher Depner, people gained as much as five pounds after those five days. Depner specializes in the links between metabolic diseases and sleep loss. In this study, Depner and his colleagues also found that participants who were allowed a weekend of catch-up sleep still gained as much weight as those who could not get the extra hours.

In combination with this study, Depner has found in his research that a lack of sleep can cause an imbalance in appetite-regulating hormones, causing people to eat more. For the 66% of Americans who are on a diet, this connection between sleep and weight gain may shine an entirely new light on their weight loss strategies.

Can you ever win at playing sleep catch-up?

As these studies indicate, it’s difficult for your body to get back to normal after even just a week of sleep deprivation, let alone years. Sleep loss not only affects your metabolism, but your immune system as well. This leaves you susceptible to a variety germs you could otherwise fight off, from a cold with symptoms that can last between48 hours and 14 days to more serious infections like influenza.

Luckily, you can remedy occasional sleep loss. According to sleep specialist Dr. Chris Winter, your body will be able to compensate for a poor night’s sleep by adding those few hours to the next night or following weekend.

An alternative solution is to sneak in a midday nap. Sleep researcher Jim Horne has found that a 20-minute nap can make up for an hour’s worth of lost sleep. For anyone who wants maximum energy after they wake up, Horne recommends drinking coffee before settling down for this small snooze. Dubbed a “nappuccino” by writer Daniel Pink, this 20 to 25-minute nap allows the caffeine to kick in while you catch a few Z’s.

Whether the nappuccino works for you or not, it’s important to find a method that does. Even taking time off to make up for lost sleep can be effective. You can join the millennials who are predicted to spend $1.4 trillion on travel every year by 2020 and go to a distant destination to let your body relax. Or you can simply dedicate yourself to some well-deserved days in the comfort of your own bed.

Having a perfect sleep schedule is an unattainable dream for most people. Find your own strategy for making up lost sleep and you can ensure that you stay in good health, even without a perfect eight hours of straight snoozing.

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