Most people understand getting enough sleep is important. According to the CDC, adults between the ages of 18-60 should get at least 7 hours of sleep each night to maximize their health and well-being.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen for everyone. Some people are lucky to get just a couple hours of shut-eye. While that can be “annoying” at best, it can also create bigger health issues, and can even exacerbate the symptoms of underlying diseases.
If you have a chronic condition or existing health issue, understanding how it could be impacted by poor sleep is essential. The more you understand the connection, the easier it will be to take active steps toward getting better sleep.
Let’s take a closer look at the connection between poor sleep and various diseases, how those illnesses can be impacted, and what you can do to improve your sleep every night.
Sleep Habits and Disease Risks
Even if you don’t currently have an underlying illness, poor sleep habits can increase your risk of developing certain conditions. There are various reasons but one of the biggest is that a lack of sleep weakens the immune system. A weak immune system makes you more prone to everything from the common cold to parasitic diseases. Beyond that, several studies have linked insufficient sleep with conditions like:
• Heart disease
• Mood disorders
You might think you’ll be able to get away with running on a few hours of sleep each night, but it’s likely to catch up to you, eventually. It can even contribute to mental health decline. Sleep deprivation is linked to increased anxiety and distress. The longer you go without getting the sleep you need, the more prone you might be to developing full-blown anxiety or depression.
Sometimes, no matter how healthy you try to be, genetics play a bigger role than you anticipate. Some people are more prone to certain diseases than others thanks to those genetics. Some of the most common multifactorial genetic inheritance disorders include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
As stated above, many of those conditions can be made worse with poor sleep. Other genetic conditions that might not be life-threatening but can cause discomfort and pain include things like varicose veins. Unfortunately, varicose veins can often impact your quality of sleep and make it hard to get comfortable. So can obesity, diabetes, and many other conditions we’ve talked about here.
That can create a sort of vicious cycle, making it difficult to get the sleep you need for your body to “heal”. The less sleep you’re able to get, the worse your symptoms are likely to become. It’s essential to establish sleep habits that work for you — we’ll offer tips on how to do that later.
Poor Skin Health
In addition to internal health issues, poor sleep can also impact the way you look. If you’ve ever played a sport or done any kind of physical training, you’ve probably heard that your muscles repair and restore themselves while you’re sleeping.
Your skin does the same.
Most skin restoration happens while you’re sleeping. When you aren’t getting enough sleep, you’re cutting into that time, and it can have a negative impact on skin cell regeneration. As a result, you might start to notice more sagging skin, more fine lines, and less collagen production. Your skin might not have that “glow” or elasticity that it would if you got at least seven hours each night.
If you already have a daily/nightly skincare routine in place, make sure getting enough sleep is a part of it. The idea of getting beauty sleep might seem like nothing more than an old saying, but there’s plenty of truth behind it.
According to the American Gastroenterological Association, 60-70 million Americans deal with gastrointestinal diseases that can severely impact their daily lives. Some of the most common include:
• Infectious colitis
• Ischemic colitis
GERD is another major problem for millions of people, causing symptoms like heartburn, upper abdominal or chest pain, and regurgitation. So, how does a lack of sleep make these issues worse? It has a lot to do with stress.
The stress you can experience from a lack of sleep can contribute to bloating, inflammation, and even changes to your gut health.
While some stomach conditions can only be helped with medical treatment, others can often be successfully managed with lifestyle changes — like getting more sleep. For example, the effects of GERD might become less severe if you choose the right sleeping position (with your head elevated). If you’re able to get more sleep that way, you’ll reduce your stress levels, which can have a positive impact on your overall gut health, and might reduce things like regurgitation and bloating.
How to Improve Your Sleep
Now that you know how sleep can put you at risk for developing certain conditions as well as exacerbating existing ones, what can you do to make sure you’re getting the rest you need?
Start by establishing a sleep routine. Try to go to bed around the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Your body’s natural circadian rhythms will adjust, and you might find it easier to sleep soundly during those hours.
Additionally, make sure you have an ideal sleep environment. Keep your bedroom free of clutter, keep it cool, and only use it for sleeping. If you can’t sleep, don’t stay in bed for more than 30 minutes trying to force yourself. If tossing and turning is creating more frustration than relaxation, get out of bed. Find something to do that will help you unwind without focusing on the need to sleep. Read a book, meditate, or write in a journal. When you start to feel tired, go back to bed.
Avoid using electronic devices for at least an hour before you decide to go to bed. Smartphones, in particular, can be stimulating and make it hard for your mind to slow down. They also emanate a special “blue light” that makes it hard to fall asleep. Find other ways to unwind before you try to rest. Those devices will always be there in the morning.
Finally, practice self-care. Sleep is just one aspect of a healthy mind and body. It’s just as important to stay physically active, find ways to manage your stress, and eat a healthy diet. There are some conditions that can actually contribute to insomnia, including diabetes. By taking care of yourself and doing your best to manage those conditions, you might be able to improve your sleep health and break the cycle of poor sleep and severe symptoms.
Whether you currently have a health condition or you’re trying to protect yourself from getting sick, sleep plays an important role in your well-being. Stay educated on how it impacts you, and do what you can to get a good night’s rest as often as possible.