126 Sleep

Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (Kasper, 2015), adults require at least seven hours of sleep per night to avoid the health risks associated with chronic sleep deprivation. Less than six hours and more than ten hours is also not recommended for those in middle adulthood (National Sleep Foundation, 2015). Not surprisingly, many Americans do not receive the seven to nine hours of sleep recommended. Additional results included that in 1993, 67 percent of Americans felt they were getting enough sleep, but in 2013 only 56 percent felt they received as much sleep as needed. Additionally, 43 percent of Americans in 2013 believed they would feel better with more sleep. In 2013, only 59 percent of US adults met that standard, while in 1942, 84 percent did (Jones, 2013). This means 41 percent of Americans receive less than the recommended amount of nightly sleep.

Sleep problems: According to the Sleep in America poll (National Sleep Foundation, 2015), 9 percent of Americans report being diagnosed with a sleep disorder; of those, 71 percent have sleep apnea and 24 percent suffer from insomnia. Pain is also a contributing factor in the difference between the amount of sleep Americans say they need and the amount they are getting. An average of forty-two minutes of sleep debt occur for those with chronic pain, and fourteen minutes for those who have suffered from acute pain in the past week. Stress and overall poor health are also key components of shorter sleep durations and worse sleep quality. Those in midlife with lower life satisfaction experienced greater delay in the onset of sleep than those with higher life satisfaction. Delayed onset of sleep could be the result of worry and anxiety during midlife, and improvements in those areas should improve sleep. Lastly, menopause can affect a woman’s sleep duration and quality (National Sleep Foundation, 2016).

Children in the home and sleep: As expected, having children at home affects the amount of sleep one receives. According to a 2016 National Center for Health Statistics analysis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016) having children decreases the amount of sleep an individual receives, however, having a partner can improve the amount of sleep for both men and women. Table 8.6 illustrates the percentage of individuals not receiving seven hours of sleep per night based on parental role.

Table 8.6: Nightly Hours of Sleep by Demographic
Demographic Percentage Sleeping Less Than Seven Hours
Single mothers 43.5
Mothers with partner 31.2
Women without children 29.7
Single fathers 37.5
Fathers with partner 34.1
Men without children 32.3

Negative consequences of insufficient sleep: There are many consequences of too little sleep, and they include physical, cognitive, and emotional changes. Sleep deprivation suppresses immune responses that fight off infection, and can lead to obesity, memory impairment, and hypertension (Ferrie et al., 2007; Kushida, 2005). Insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk for colon cancer, breast cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes (Pattison, 2015). A lack of sleep can increase stress as cortisol (a stress hormone) remains elevated, which keeps the body in a state of alertness and hyperarousal, therefore increases blood pressure. Sleep is also associated with longevity. Dew et al. (2003) found that older adults who had better sleep patterns also lived longer. During deep sleep, a growth hormone is released that stimulates protein synthesis, breaks down fat that supplies energy, and stimulates cell division. Consequently, a decrease in deep sleep contributes to less growth hormone being released and subsequent physical decline seen in aging (Pattison, 2015).

A girl sleeping
Figure 8.10: The importance of sleep

Sleep disturbances can also impair glucose functioning in middle adulthood. Caucasian, African American, and Chinese non-shift-working women aged forty-eight to fifty-eight who were not taking insulin-related medications participated in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) Sleep Study and were subsequently examined approximately five years later (Taylor et al., 2016). Body mass index (BMI) and insulin resistance were measured at two time points. Results indicated that irregular sleep schedules, including highly variable bedtimes and staying up much later than usual, are associated in midlife women with insulin resistance, which is an important indicator of metabolic health, including diabetes risk. Diabetes risk increases in midlife women, and irregular sleep schedules may be an important reason because irregular bedtime schedules expose the body to varying levels of light, which is the most important timing cue for the body’s circadian clock. By disrupting circadian timing, bedtime variability may impair glucose metabolism and energy homeostasis.

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