Very few people get the 7 hours of sleep required for optimal health. They likely do not understand how sleep deprivation is affecting their health. As healthcare providers, we have an opportunity to make a significant impact in our patients’ lives without prescribing medications. In many people sleep deprivation occurs simply because they get to sleep too late. We refer to this as “voluntary insomnia,” as contrasted by people who want to get more sleep but either cannot get to sleep or awaken frequently through the night. We’ll discuss solutions to these problems in future posts.
Inadequate sleep causes
Numerous health problems including insulin resistance and diabetes and obesity.
Elevated ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and and raises hunger at the level of the hypothalamus.
Lower levels of leptin, increasing body fat. Leptin is made in fat cells, and raises metabolism while lowering appetite.
Elevated levels of cortisol, resulting in central fatty deposition.
Elevated levels of insulin, resulting in fat building.
A study assessed the basal metabolic rates of sleep deprived individuals. Volunteers spent a day in an insulated room, with normal sleep (at least 7 hours) and their calorie output was measured. Next, their calorie output was measured on a day when they were then allowed to sleep for only 4 hours. The result as that in the sleep deprived state, total energy output was 400 calories lower. That is the equivalent of running 4 miles!
Voluntary insomnia is solved by educating patients on the effect they may be suffering from lack of sleep, and assessing their motivation to change. Some may choose not to increase sleep time, but for those who wish to improve their health without medications, setting a hard stop bedtime is a sure way to do so.