Over the years, we’ve been told that getting too much sleep wasn’t good – and, that not getting enough was even worse for our health. Not only is lack of sleep blamed for chronic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, but also cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity. In essence, about the only thing that hasn’t been blamed on inadequate sleep – is hair loss – although that could be next. And, that’s not covered under your health insurance.
According to studies, compared to previous generations, we’ve been sleeping less and less every year – and, it’s making us all prone to a myriad of physical, emotional, and mental ailments.
By now, you’re probably ready to rush out to buy some new pillows and a softer mattress – because this is rather unsettling news. But, it may be an over-exaggeration. Although for quite some time doctors and scientists had ignored the importance sleep had in our well-being, in recent decades, they have begun to realize its value by systematically gathering data on how much people really sleep.
Researchers have found is that we aren’t actually sleeping any less today than we did before. However, knowing precisely how much we sleep has become of vital interest, because sleep plays a pivotal role in many aspects of our health—from staying mentally fit to fending off infections.
In studies of the 1980s, scientists began to take notice how sleep affects our health. As a result of a 1989 study, researchers became alarmed when their tests showed that rats deprived of sleep started dying in as little as two or three weeks. The effects of sleep deprivation on humans can be quite negative as well.
Tests have determined that the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep. When we sleep less than seven hours, we can experience difficulty with memory and simple cognitive functions. And, while some people are able to get by with much less, they are a tiny fraction of the population – and, their health could still suffer in the long run.
According to data gathered in a survey conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) between 2005 and 2007, more than 30% of adults slept less than six hours a night. In a similar study by the National Sleep Foundation, more than 20% of people in 2009 were sleeping less than six hours compared to only 12% in 1998. This caused the CDC to declare that insufficient sleep was becoming a public health epidemic.
Ironically, the announcement by the CDC came at a time when doctors across the U.S. were prescribing sleeping aids and sleeping pills at an increasing rate. In the last decade alone, the number of adults on sleeping pills has tripled.
As is sometimes the case, a contradictory analysis from 2010, published in the journal Sleep, used data gathered from a different set of surveys between 1975 and 2006, which found opposing results. It was determined that the proportion of “short-sleepers” (individuals who sleep less than six hours) had changed very little in the last 30 years with only 9.3% in 2006.
The discrepancies in the two surveys, according to Kristen Knutsen, a sleep researcher at the University of Chicago who conducted the 2010 survey, could be attributed to participants of the study being asked a different question regarding how many hours they sleep. Therefore, responses could suffer from both conscious and unconscious biases – as well as simply guessing on behave of test subjects – since people can underestimate or be completely mistaken about how much they actually sleep – especially if they suffer from insomnia.
While some individual mysteriously function better with less sleep than others, scientists are beginning to understand – for the majority of us – just how crucial sleep is for good health. As more tests are conducted in the field of sleep research, we will undoubtedly learn more about what makes us need the sleep we get or don’t get.
Maintaining good health is important – but, so is having health care that protects you and your family. Remember – if you currently aren’t covered by a plan under the Affordable Care Act, you need to take advantage of the open enrollment period for 2016 from November 1, 2015 to January 31, 2016 – or you could be subject to a penalty for not having health insurance.
Make sure you’re getting the best rates on your health coverage by getting a free health insurance quote today!