The Link Between Lack of Sleep and Serious Illness

If you deliberately shortchange yourself on the amount of sleep you get nightly, you’re walking through life in an underslept state – and upping your risk of disease

A number of important research studies have found links between lack of sleep and cancer, as well as other serious illnesses or medical conditions, such as stroke and heart disease.

There is emerging epidemiological data that indicates that lack of sleep may be a co-factor in the progression of cancer, including how quickly cancerous tumors grow, says sleep specialist Kingman Strohl, MD.

“One reason is that sleep deprivation disrupts your circadian rhythm and affects the body's biological functions needed for metabolism, cell growth and general health,” Dr. Strohl says.

It may be time for you to develop a routine to help you wind down a nightly must-do, he says.

“People recognize that reading something a little on the boring side will help to put them to sleep,” Dr. Strohl says. “Patients will say that they want to wake up more refreshed in the morning, but will tell me that their lifestyle doesn't allow them to get seven or eight hours of sleep at night. When I ask what is going on, they tell me they like to stay up and look at the computer until one in the morning.”

Unfortunately, modern society downplays the importance of sleep.

“To put it in perspective, if you ask most people how much information they got about exercise in school, they will probably say a good amount. Or ask them if they learned about sex education in school,” he says. “Again, they'll say they did. But ask them if they received sleep education in school, and it's very unlikely they did.”

Still, people know they want to sleep more and will invest in devices designed to monitor and track sleep, such as Fitbits.

”The decision to get a good night's sleep or stay up on the computer is a trade-off,” Dr. Strohl says. “You have this need for sleep and if you ignore it, the trade-off is that it can affect your personal health.”

Kingman Strohl, MD is a sleep medicine specialist and program director of Sleep Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with any University Hospitals doctor online.

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