Let Those Visions of Sugarplums Dance in Your Head, Not Your Stomach

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Worried about overindulging this holiday season? Give yourself a special gift: sleep.

Despite the temptation to have too much of everything during this hectic season, a growing number of studies now point to the ill effects of missing even just a few hours of sleep -- from increased appetite and obesity to a greater risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.

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"So many people could benefit from more sleep," says James Gangwisch, a Columbia University researcher and lead author of a new study on the health effects of missed sleep. "A lot of people don't even realize that they are sleep-deprived."

Just look at the numbers: In 1910, Americans, who didn't have television, computers and video games to distract them at night, slept an average of nine hours per night,according to a new report in the journal Sleep. Nearly a century later, adults average seven hours of sleep nightly, according to a 2003 survey by the National Sleep Foundation. About a third of adults get six hours or less per night, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a large, federally funded project.

That's short of the seven to nine hours nightly most of us need.

The effects go far beyond feeling tired and cranky. Skipping sleep fuels appetite, particularly for the kind of comfort food that is high in calories. Small wonder, then, that sleep deprivation is emerging as a key risk factor for obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

In fact, when Gangwisch and his colleagues analyzed the NHANES records of nearly 9,000 adults, ages 32 to 86, they found that short sleepers -- that is, those who sleep five hours or less per night -- were nearly twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes as those who slept seven or more hours nightly. Results are published in the December issue of the journal Sleep.

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