The harm in sleep deprivation

Anita Marlay
Experts suggesting making sleep just as much a priority as your diet and exercise for your health.

Sleep is a biological need and something that no animal can live without. Sleep is just as important as food and water to our overall survival.

The average person spends 25 years, or roughly one-third of their life, asleep. However, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37% of adults are sleep-deprived. Sleep deprivation refers to getting less than the needed amount of sleep, which for most adults is seven to nine hours each night.

Even going just a few days without adequate sleep can have an impact. Besides daytime drowsiness, you might experience reduced concentration, lack of energy, slower thinking, memory issues and an irritable mood. You are more likely to be accident-prone if you are operating on less than ideal amounts of sleep.

Chronic sleep deprivation can have long-term impacts on our health, including increased risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack and stroke; increased insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes; obesity; worsened immune function; hormonal problems; pain; mental health disorders; premature aging and wrinkling; decreased sex drive; and decreased fertility.

Why is sleep so important? Sleep allows the body to restore and repair cells. It is when the body does its housekeeping, including getting rid of wastes in the body that can cause damage. During sleep, our heart rate drops along with blood pressure, which reduces stress on the heart. Our brain activity slows, allowing it to forge new thought connections that help with memory retention. Our immune system uses downtime during sleep to produce infection-fighting substances. Interrupted sleep disrupts hormone production, which contributes to weight gain and insulin resistance.

The longer you go without the sleep you need, the bigger your sleep deficit grows. It takes about four days to recover from just one hour of lost sleep. It is common for your body to become accustomed to less sleep than you actually need, but that doesn’t mean you are not suffering the consequences. Often, the more tired we get, the less tired we feel and the harder it is to sleep as long as we should.

Can you catch up on lost sleep? If you are chronically short on sleep, a 12-hour sleep over the weekend won’t be enough to erase your sleep deficit. But what you can do is gradually add time to your usual sleep schedule until you are getting between seven to nine hours per night. Start by going to bed 15 or 30 minutes earlier than usual. Go to bed when you are tired, regardless of the clock. On days you don’t have to get up at a certain time, sleep until you naturally wake up. The more you can do this, the sooner your body will settle into its natural sleep pattern that is right for you.

To get better sleep, check out these suggestions:

- Keep a regular routine. Try to go to bed and get up at about the same time every day.

- Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible. A cool, dark room is conducive to sleep.

- Turn the electronics off. Silence your phone, and turn off the television and computers.

- Limit alcohol, nicotine and caffeine at least a couple of hours before bed.

- Exercise, but not too close to bedtime.

- Eliminate potential disturbances, such as animals in your bedroom.

- Do something you find relaxing for at least an hour before bed.

- Avoid a heavy meal too close to bedtime, but a light snack shortly before bed might improve your sleep. Avoid excessive fluids at least a couple of hours before bed.

- If you nap during the day, limit it to just 20-30 minutes.

- Above all, make sleep just as much a priority as your diet and exercise for your health.

Air Fryer Salmon with Peach Glaze

Serves 4

½ cup peach preserves

4 tsp lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp Asian chili garlic sauce

½ tsp ground ginger

4 (6 oz) salmon fillets, 1 inch thick

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

1 tsp toasted sesame seeds

2 green onions, thinly sliced

Stir together the preserves, lemon juice, garlic, chili sauce and ginger in a small bowl. Microwave on high until boiling, 30-35 seconds. Remove from microwave, and stir.

Preheat air-fryer to 390 degrees. Cut a piece of foil to cover the bottom of the air fryer basket and up two sides about 2 inches. Spray with nonstick spray. Pierce the foil a few times to allow for air flow. Sprinkle salmon evenly with salt and pepper, and arrange in basket. Cook until salmon flakes easily with a fork, about 8 minutes. Using foil sides, lift salmon out and transfer to a serving platter. Spoon peach glaze over fillets, and sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onions.

Nutrition Information: 274 calories, 11 g fat 34 g protein, 12 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 251 mg sodium

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.