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Lack of sleep linked to poor physical and mental health, new study suggests

Americans across the country aren’t getting enough shut eye putting them at risk for serious health issues

(Craig Cunningham/Charleston Daily Mail via AP)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — From an increased risk of stroke and heart attacks to higher levels of anxiety and suicidal thoughts, lack of sleep is a growing public health concern affecting millions. Not only that, the percentage of those suffering from insufficient sleep has risen rapidly over the past decade, with no signs of stopping.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Community Health, researchers evaluated sleep patterns of 158,468 working adults, ages 18 and older, between 2010 and 2018. Participants resembled the U.S. population in terms of race, employment, marital status and number of household dependents allowing authors to determine populations most at risk.

Sleep shortage, defined as seven hours or less per day, rose among the overall population from 30.9 percent in 2010 to 35.6 percent in 2018. African Americans were over 15 percent more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation than whites. Findings also showed individuals between 45 and 64 years old, those with less than a bachelor’s degree, those widowed, divorced or separated and those with more than one child were significantly more sleep deprived than individuals not fitting the same criteria. 

Researchers also found associations between sleep duration and employment type. Sleep shortage was linked with jobs in the healthcare industry, the military and social service professionals. Individuals with more than one job, those paid by the hour and who worked more than forty hours per week were also more affected. 

While everyone experiences sleepless nights every now and again, there comes a time when individuals reach a breaking point. Exhaustion sets in and the body starts to break down. Previous research links sleep shortage with a higher risk of chronic disease. Evidence shows a 9 percent increased risk of diabetes, a 15 percent increased risk of stroke and a 48 percent increased risk of heart disease for every hour below the recommended seven.

However, there are habits one can incorporate to improve sleep duration and lessen risks. The CDC suggests the following:

  1. Consistency is key. Go to bed at the same time each night and set the alarm for the same time each morning–weekends included. 
  2. Put away smartphones, turn off the television and shut down the computer. Bedrooms are a place for comfort, relaxation and quiet. Not distracting electronics.
  3. Stay away from alcohol, large meals and caffeine at least two hours before bedtime.
  4. Get some exercise. Those who integrate daily activity tend to have an easier time falling asleep.