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Harvard Heart Letter examines the costs of not getting enough sleep

Boston , MA —Beyond making you drowsy, not getting enough sleep night after night can contribute to a variety of health problems. The August issue of the Harvard Heart Letter examines the connection between sleep and disease and offers practical tips to achieving a good night's rest.

A recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation suggests that about half of American adults borrow from sleep to get more work done, watch late-night television, or surf the Internet. Our national average was around 9-10 hours of sleep per night a century ago, but has fallen to under 7 hours today. The amount of sleep needed varies from person to person, but the Harvard Heart Letter notes that for most people, eight hours seems to be about right.

Over the short term, not getting enough sleep increases blood pressure and stress hormone levels. Sleep deprivation makes it difficult for the body to process blood sugar and reduces levels of leptin, an appetite-depressing hormone. These two changes could lead to diabetes and weight gain. Lack of sleep also increases inflammation, thought to be a key element in the development of heart disease.

The August issue provides tips for a better night sleep:

Set your internal clock by establishing a regular bedtime schedule. Avoid alcohol. Although it may make you drowsy, it also makes you waken more easily later on. Regular exercise can aid a good night's sleep. Late afternoon activity seems to be best, but avoid exercising within three hours of bedtime. If you drink coffee, teas, or other caffeinated beverages, try cutting back, or at least not having any during the afternoon or later. If the need to urinate at night impairs your sleep, try drinking more fluids in the morning and afternoon and limiting your fluids from dinnertime onward. Mattresses and pillows don't last forever. Check yours to make sure they're giving you the support you need.

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About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.