Getting less than six hours sleep can trigger two 'life-changing' illnesses

Young woman suffering from insomnia lying in bed at night
-Credit: (Image: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty)

Experts are urging people to stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible to lower their risk of chronic illnesses. Poor sleep quality and an erratic body clock can lead to depression and various heart issues.

With the summer season in full swing, bringing with it scorching temperatures and lighter evenings, securing a decent amount of shut-eye can prove more difficult. Extended daylight hours can particularly mess with your body's circadian rhythm and suppress the production of melatonin.

This can result in irregular sleep patterns that could ultimately pose a threat to your health. A study in 2016 discovered a significant link between insomnia and an increased risk of depression.

In a another study, research indicated that insomnia and depression often occur together. Researchers concluded that having one condition heightens the risk of developing the other.

There are several treatments that could potentially help you enhance your sleep:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

  • Relaxation techniques - such as deep breathing and visualisation.

  • Exercise.

  • Mind-body practices - like yoga, tai chi, qigong, and meditation.

  • Avoiding stimulants, like caffeine, in the afternoon.

Sleep loss may cause cognitive and mood changes, impair emotional regulation and stability, and alter neural processes, according to experts. They also suggest that a lack of sleep could trigger a stress response and increase inflammation levels in the body.

Inflammation can damage healthy cells, tissues, and organs, causing internal scarring, tissue death, and DNA damage in previously healthy cells. If inflammation persists, it can lead to chronic conditions, potentially triggering heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and even cancer.

Approximately one-third of adults fail to achieve the recommended seven hours of sleep each night. This sleep deprivation can adversely affect heart health.

Kathleen Drinan, DO, a cardiologist at the University of Chicago Medicine, explained: "We think the lack of sleep increases heart disease risks by forcing our bodies to rely on the sympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the 'fight or flight' nervous system."

"This leads to the release of more adrenaline and high cortisol levels, which leads to increased risks of heart disease." The British Heart Foundation suggests that six to eight hours of sleep per night is associated with a healthy heart.

Further research has found that consistently getting less than seven hours of sleep per night and frequent awakenings during the night can increase an individual's risk of suffering a stroke, heart attack, or myocardial infarction in the future.

Poor sleep has also been linked to years of poor cardiovascular health. To help set yourself up up for restful sleep:

  • Stick to a regular sleep/wake schedule.

  • Turn off the TV, computer, and other devices before bedtime.

  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark.

  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime and caffeine in the afternoon or evening.

  • Exercise every morning.

If you are struggling with sleep and/or your mental health, book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.