Even a small sleep deficit can activate the immune system and affect health


“Alchemy” is part of the exhibit at Strathmore. (VIRGIL WONG)
March 11, 2013
Snoozing
While you weren’t sleeping
Experience Life, March issue

It’s no secret that chronic sleep deprivation can play a huge role in declining health. But insomniacs are not the only victims of the consequences of skimping on sleep. According to the March issue of Experience Life magazine, even a small deficit — as little as an hour a night — can lead to some seriously unpleasant conditions, including floppy eyelids, sexual dysfunction and loss of hair, hearing and even vision. “Why?” asks the magazine. “Because when we don’t get enough sleep, our immune systems go into overdrive, which causes systemic inflammation and turns on dangerous genetic switches.”

For example, it says, if someone is genetically predisposed to develop Alzheimer’s disease at age 70, “a sleep disturbance could bring it on at an earlier age, say 55.” Other risks: headaches, impaired alertness, high blood pressure, increased stress levels, muscle weakness and weight gain.

The problem is that many of these conditions may develop gradually, making it easy for people to simply get used to feeling unwell. “People devalue sleep and are completely unaware of what happens to them when they have a deficit,” sleep researcher James Maas tells the magazine. “As a society, we are so habituated to low levels of sleep that most of us don’t know what it feels like to be fully alert and awake.”

Exhibition
Where art and medicine intersect
Pulse: Art and Medicine, Strathmore

Bacteria exploding in blown glass. X-ray scans of stuffed animals. Cellular structures re-imagined as paper-fiber sculptures. These are among the medically inspired pieces of art on display at the Strathmore in North Bethesda. The multimedia exhibition “Pulse: Art and Medicine” features the work of modern artists who use the human body, from its classic form down to its microscopic germs, as muse.

“From before DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, areas of medicine have influenced aesthetic perceptions,” says the museum’s Fine Art curator, Harriet Lesser. This collection “presents an ever-expanding scope of how something so essential to our daily lives can also be a source of artistic inspiration.” Among the artworks are a collage of anatomical drawings sketched from cadavers and a 13-foot-long wooden double-helix sculpture — an overblown DNA strand that acts as a sort of self-portrait for the viewer.

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