Sleep deprivation has always been a major concern for adults suffering from one of the 81 known sleep disorders, but Ochsner sleep medicine division chair Dr. Katherine Smith said the consequences of sleep deprivation can affect anyone.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to weight gain, mental stress and physical stress on other body systems.
“Sleep deprivation is a lot more serious and causes a lot more medical problems than we recognized in the past,” Smith said. “There is an idea that the obesity epidemic in America is at least partly due to sleep deprivation. The idea is that there are chemicals produced in the brain and the body in response to how the brain sleeps that actually control appetite, weight gain and weight loss.”
In some cases, patients can lose one or two pounds every three months without changing any other daily or dietary habits following treatment of sleep disorders, Smith said.
In addition to weight gain, there are other health problems that are caused by sleep deprivation and can be easily eliminated by achieving seven and a half to eight hours of sleep per night, Smith said.
“Sleep deprivation causes stress, which leads to things like anxiety and depression. Lack of sleep also causes stress on other parts of the body,” she said. “Sleep deprivation will increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, while sleep apnea – a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep – can lead to congestive heart failure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, weight gain, attentional problems and memory loss.”
Smith recommends removing televisions and computers from the bedroom, not exercising within three hours of bedtime, keeping the bedroom cool and dark and trying to stick to a set sleep schedule to increase the chances of getting a good night’s rest.
“The brain wants to set up a pattern to sleep in a certain way,” she said. “We want to remove all those things that are stimulating and will break that pattern.”
To learn more about sleep disorders, click here.