YAKIMA, Wash. — In the year 700 B.C., the Greek poet Hesiod first wrote the famous proverbial saying “Moderation is best in all things.”
Thousands of years later, experts say the same is true when it comes to the amount of sleep we get each night.
A recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that getting six to seven hours of sleep a night is optimal for people under 65; consistently sleeping shorter or longer than that can lead to a number of health problems, including death.
“In conclusion, our findings indicate that mortality is increased when both weekday and weekend sleep are short, or when both are long in subjects below the age of 65 years,” the authors wrote.
The study — which examined the sleep patterns of 43,880 subjects over 13 years — sought to understand the relationship between our health and the amount of sleep we get on weekends. They said previous studies’ findings on the relationship between sleep and health were inconsistent, and they hypothesized that not all researchers factored in the amount of sleep their subjects got on weekends.
The physical drawbacks of not getting enough sleep are well-documented.
“When we sleep, our bodies are repairing, healing and getting ready for our next day, and if you set that short and you do that in the long term, it can have negative effects” said Dr. Tanny Davenport, a practitioner at Family Medicine of Yakima and the chief medical officer of Signal Health.
Among those negative effects are weight gain, mood changes, memory problems and high blood pressure, the last of which can put individuals at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. These are caused because not getting enough sleep affects our nervous systems and hormones, said Dr. Vishesh Kapur, the director of sleep medicine at the University of Washington Medicine.
For example, hormones that control appetite suppression can be affected, which can lead a person to crave more calories and thus gain weight, he said.
Sleep depravation can also be deadly in that it can cause accidents among motorists or people who operate heavy machinery, Davenport said.
“Your body is going to try to catch up and get the sleep eventually, and you don’t want it to be when you’re driving down the road or anything else,” he said.
While the negative effects of sleep deprivation are well-understood, experts say understanding such effects in people who tend to sleep longer is difficult.
“A number of studies have found that individuals who habitually report nine hours or more of sleep do have higher mortality. What’s hard to sort out is if this is because people who are sicker sleep more or if sleeping more is the cause of the mortality,” Kapur said. “It may be that spending too much time in bed is associated with less physical activity and that is why they do worse.”
Referencing the study, Davenport speculated that those who sleep more may be on medication for other health problems, which causes them to sleep more.
Because many of us have family, friends and jobs that interfere with our sleep schedule, getting the optimal six to seven hours can be challenging.
This is especially true for those whose jobs require them to switch back and forth between day and night shifts, Davenport said.
“If they’re not doing it properly and having huge transitions between their various shift cycles and short themselves on sleep, it doesn’t allow their body enough time to recover,” he said. “Also, it upsets their (body’s understanding) as far as when it’s their morning and when it’s their night.”
For people who do have to transition between night and day shifts, Davenport recommended trying to stay on one shift as long as possible so your body has time to adjust to a new sleep schedule. Additionally, for people who have to work a night shift for a period of time, Davenport said, if possible, they should treat it like they would a day shift by developing a routine.