colorful-vegThe October issue of Sleep showcases research that may be sobering for people who struggle with chronic insomnia. Several studies now suggest that getting 7 to 8 hours’ sleep a night is protective of long-term health. Short sleepers—defined variously as people who report getting 5 or fewer, 6 or fewer, or less than 7 hours of sleep a night—are more vulnerable to a host of nasties, including obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, suicidal ideation, and dementia.

In this same vein, researchers who conducted a study recently written up in ScienceDaily say that reports of short sleep and poor sleep quality—the stuff of insomnia—are associated with a greater build-up of β-Amyloid in the brain, a marker of Alzheimer’s disease.

What’s a Short Sleeper to Do?

Taking measures to improve sleep is always a good idea. Particularly regarding sleep quality, there’s a lot to learn and much to do. But sleep length may be less amenable to change. Thirty more minutes’ sleep a night may be possible to achieve under the right conditions. Beyond that, nature may not allow us to go.

But sleep length is only one factor in the equation that predicts long-term health. Short sleepers can minimize health risks by eating healthy meals and getting plenty of exercise. Following are recommendations from the US Department of Health and Human Services:

Dietary Guidelines

  • Increase your intake of fruit, vegetables (especially the colorful ones), beans, and peas.
  • Eat more whole-grain foods and fewer refined grains.
  • Increase your intake of fat-free or low-fat milk products and fortified soy beverages.
  • Go strong on seafood, and supplement with lean meat, poultry, eggs, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
  • Cook with oil rather than butter and other solid fats.

Exercise Guidelines

  • Do at least 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise, each week, or a combination of the two.
  • Get better results by doing 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise or 2 ½ hours of vigorous-intensity exercise every week, or a combination of the two.
  • Do muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week.

Sleep is important to long-term health, but diet and exercise are, too, and may be easier to control.

How many hours do you sleep each night? Does it feel like enough?

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.

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