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9 Shevat 5765 - January 19, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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The Effect of Poor Sleep on Health
By Dr. Reuven Bruner, Ph.D.

Sleep is necessary to feel refreshed, but now we know that sleep actually impacts the way the body functions. Sleeping poorly can affect how often you get sick, your weight and, for children, how well they grow. Learn why sleep can mean more than just a good night's rest.

For as long as there have been mothers, there have been people telling us to "get a good night's sleep." But what exactly is "a good night's sleep?"

Adequate sleep is enough sleep so that we feel refreshed and able to function the following day. The amount of hours in bed is not as important; it's different from person to person.

Sleep loss, we think, is best defined individually in relation to what the person's sleep need is.

And sleep loss can produce more consequences than just a few yawns the next day.

Besides just not feeling well, we're not as sharp, we're not as quick to respond to the rosh yeshiva, we can have more traffic accidents, we're not as sharp in the workplace/kollel. It can lead to mood disorders. Many people who don't get enough sleep develop depression. If we don't get the right amount of sleep for our bodies, it can have a lot of effects on our health.

And while many people who don't get enough sleep may just have a vague feeling of not being at their best, in fact their bodies could be registering real problems.

So all the reactions — the physiological reactions — to sleep deprivation or sleep loss are maladaptive, because we don't have mechanisms to adapt to sleep too little, because that's not part of our biology.

In other words, studies have shown some potentially serious physical consequences can arise as a result of chronic sleep loss.

Sleep loss has an adverse effect on our ability to metabolize sugar. In one week of severe sleep deprivation, such as 4 hours per night, a healthy, lean, fit volunteer will be in a pre-diabetic state.

With sleep loss, we have also noticed an increase in hunger and appetite and profound alterations in hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. Such that, when you're sleep- deprived, you may overeat well in excess of the caloric demands and, therefore, sleep loss is probably also a risk factor for weight gain and obesity.

Lack of sleep can set off a variety of hormonal changes, affecting our mood and even our growth.

Cortisol, which is a stress hormone, is normally very low in the evening, because it sort of prepares us for a relaxed state to go to sleep. But in a state of sleep debt, cortisol levels in the evening are elevated. So somehow, a state of sleep loss is read as a stressor.

As young girls and boys enter puberty, they have pulsations of different hormones from their brain that put them into puberty. And these pulsations occur at night while they're sleeping. So if they are not on a normal sleep-wake cycle, this can interfere with the pulsatile secretion of these hormones and it can affect when and how they go through puberty. And with going through puberty, it affects their height and their growth.

And if you ever noticed that you tend to get sick if you're overtired — well, there may be a connection.

In general, sleep loss has an adverse effect on immune function. And in particular, sleep loss will affect the response to a vaccination.

We know that people who don't get enough sleep and are fatigued all the time seem to be more susceptible to diseases. Research into the role of sleep in maintaining health is still in its infancy, but experts do know that practicing good bedtime habits is still an excellent idea.

One advice is to sleep in a cool room, sleep in a dark room, do not use the bedroom for work activities, for watching videos or listening to music. Avoid heavy foods late at night. Regular exercise during the daytime will promote sleep. Regular sleep times are also recommended.

Allowing yourself adequate time for sleep should be a priority. However, at times, good sleep may be elusive. And while medication is not a cure for sleep deprivation, a sleep aide may be useful on a short-term basis.

We like to break it down into the old medicines and the new medicines. The old medicines are usually in a class of drugs called the benzodiazepines. And they're usually a little bit longer-acting than some of the newer medications, so they will give you the side effects going into the next day sometimes. Some of the longer ones will make the patients feel fatigued and dragging and even cause a dry mouth the following day.

The newer medications are in a class of drugs that we call non-benzodiazepines. And these drugs have a much shorter duration of action and much less side effects, so that the patients feel more refreshed the following day.

Whatever the method someone uses to recapture good sleep, it's important to realize that getting "enough sleep" is something your body craves to keep it functioning at full speed.

Our whole body needs sleep to function. It needs to recover from the day before and to go into the next day. Every function in the body depends on sleep, on that time to rebuild and get ready for the next day.

2004 Dr. Reuven Bruner. All Rights Reserved. For more information contact him at: POB 1903, Jerusalem, 91314, Israel; Tel: (02) 652-7684; Mobile: 052 2865-821; Fax: (02) 652-7227; Email:


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