Vail Daily column: Lack of sleep affects health |

Vail Daily column: Lack of sleep affects health

While the importance of a good night of sleep is generally understood, many people may be unaware of the health risks associated with a lack of sleep and a lack of quality sleep.

It may seem undoubtedly apparent that sleep is beneficial and that getting a good night’s sleep often makes us feel more alert and energized. Even without fully understanding what sleep does for us, we know that going without sleep for too long may cause us to have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling emotions and behavior, coping with changes and even maintaining your sex life.

According to sleep specialists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, among others, a number of bodily systems are negatively affected by inadequate sleep: The heart, lungs, eyes, digestive system and metabolism are just a few of many.


Several studies have linked insufficient sleep to weight gain. Not only do night owls with shortchanged sleep have more time to eat, drink and snack, but levels of the hormone leptin, which tells the brain enough food has been consumed, are lower in the sleep-deprived, while levels of ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, are higher. Metabolism also slows when a person’s circadian rhythm and sleep are disrupted.

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The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Getting enough sleep could help you maintain your ideal weight — and conversely, sleep loss goes along with an increased risk of weight gain. Why? Part of the problem is behavioral. If you’re overtired, you might be less likely to have the energy to go for that jog or cook a healthy dinner after work.

The other part is physiological. The hormone leptin plays a key role in making you feel full. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels drop. Result: People who are tired are just plain hungrier — and they seem to crave high-fat and high-calorie foods specifically.


During sleep, the body produces cytokines, cellular hormones that help fight infections. Thus, short sleepers may be more susceptible to everyday infections like colds and flu. In a study of 153 healthy men and women, Sheldon Cohen and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University found that those who slept less than seven hours a night were three times as likely to develop cold symptoms when exposed to a cold-causing virus than people who slept eight or more hours each night.

No matter what your age, sleeping well is essential to your physical health and emotional well-being.

For older adults, a good night’s sleep is especially important because it helps improve concentration and memory formation, allows your body to repair any cell damage that occurred during the day and refreshes your immune system, which in turn helps to prevent disease.


When you’re sleeping you’re regulating hormone levels, you’re regulating insulin levels and your blood pressure is being kept under control; there are a lot of things going on, and if you’re not getting enough sleep you’re throwing these things out of whack.

Many experts think sleep apnea may account for one-third of all cases of high blood pressure among adults.


Poor sleep is also a risk factor for depression and substance abuse.


Many cases of insomnia are caused by underlying but very treatable causes. While emotional issues such as stress, anxiety and depression can cause insomnia, the most common causes in adults 50 and older are a poor sleep environment and poor sleep and daytime habits. Try to identify all possible causes of your insomnia so you can tailor treatment accordingly.

• Are you under a lot of stress?

• Are you depressed? Do you feel emotionally flat or hopeless?

• Do you struggle with chronic feelings of anxiety or worry?

• Have you recently gone through a traumatic experience?

• Are you taking any medications that might be affecting your sleep?

• Do you have any health problems that may be interfering with sleep?

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to or call 970-328-5526.

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