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It's Worse Than We Thought: 3 New Revelations in Sleep Health

Not getting enough sleep is tied to everything from lack of productivity to Alzheimer's and type 2 diabetes.

by Anna Johansson /
Draw a line between professional time and personal time, and make sleep a higher priority. It's healthy. Shutterstock

You undoubtedly realize that sleep is important, if for no other reason than you’ve experienced the grogginess and detrimental productivity effects firsthand after a night of little to no sleep. You probably also realize that a chronic lack of sleep is bad for your health, making you vulnerable to other illnesses and conditions.

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However, there’s still much that scientists don’t fully understand about sleep, and we’re constantly uncovering new information about how sleep-related habits affect our health. The more we learn about sleep, the more important we understand it to be — and the latest findings confirm that a chronic lack of sleep is even worse than you thought. Here are three new eye-opening studies on subject of sleep:

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a complex form of dementia, which develops with age and grows progressively worse, limiting your cognitive functions, impairing your memory, and even interfering with your sense of identity. It’s a frightening disease we still don’t fully understand, but researchers at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London recently revealed they discovered correlation between lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. Their study focused on sleep-disordered breathing, like sleep apnea, but may apply to a broader population struggling with getting adequate sleep.

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Type 2 Diabetes

In one study focusing on children, losing just one hour of sleep each night was enough to increase the prevalence of risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including insulin resistance and blood glucose levels. We’ve known for some time that a lack of sleep can lead to obesity and other related health problems, but this study indicates that sleep may have a relationship with diabetes as well. It also illustrates that to have negative health consequences, your lack of sleep doesn’t have to be especially significant; just losing an hour could have an impact.

If you don’t get enough sleep, you could take more risks in your daily life, leading to unintended consequences like spending too much money or even putting your health at risk.

If you don’t get enough sleep, you could take more risks in your daily life, leading to unintended consequences like spending too much money or even putting your health at risk.

Risk-Seeking Behavior

According to a report by the University of Zurich, a lack of sleep may also trigger intensified risk-seeking behavior. Subjects who got fewer than the recommended 8 hours of sleep per day were more likely to take risks in a controlled study, favoring scenarios with higher prizes — but also with a higher risk of nothing. What’s more, subjects weren’t aware of this increased tendency. If you don’t get enough sleep, you could take more risks in your daily life, leading to unintended consequences like spending too much money or even putting your health at risk.

How to Get More Sleep

At this point, you probably understand just how severe the effects of losing sleep can be, but it’s not like you’ve deliberately chosen to get less than a full night’s sleep on a consistent basis. Like most Americans, you’re probably overworked with an incredibly busy schedule, and sleep is often one of the lowest priorities on your list.

So what can you do to make more time for sleep, and get a better night’s rest overall?

  • Invest in a better-quality mattress. If you’re sleeping on a years-old, worn-out mattress, it’s no wonder why you wake up feeling tired in the morning. A new mattress can be a big investment, but it’s almost always worth the money. With a new mattress that’s better suited to your sleeping habits, you’ll get to sleep faster and stay asleep consistently.
  • Watch your habits. There are many habits that can affect how much sleep you get, including how much caffeine you consume throughout the day (and when you consume it — even a few hours before bedtime can interfere with sleep), whether or not you physically exercise, and how long you spend staring at a digital screen before bed.
  • Take a closer look at your schedule. If you feel like you’re too busy to sleep, consider taking a second look at your schedule. In Western culture, there’s a lot of pressure to fill up our schedules to seem important and socially integrated, so your daily activities might have some fluff or unnecessary tasks that can be skipped or delayed. Draw a line between professional time and personal time, and make sleep a higher priority.

Sleep is even more important than you probably realized, but it’s entirely within your power to reshape your sleeping habits for good. Make sleep your first priority, scheduling time for it the way you’d schedule a meeting, and work the rest of your schedule around it. In time, it will become the new normal, and you’ll improve your health and productivity — not to mentioning lowering your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes.

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