Health risks of not sleeping enough, and how to avoid them

Sometimes it feels as though we've been conditioned to think of insufficient sleep as good thing. Sure, in theory, a person who is sleeping less might be getting other things done. But one must ask themselves – is skirting by on four to six hours of sleep per night worth some of the health risks associated with sleep deprivation? 

In fact, a new study emerging from experts in Norway shows that not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep per night could have serious consequences for heart health. According to these findings from a team led by Lars Laugsand, M.D., of the Department of Public Health at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, displaying three major signs of insomnia could increase a person's risk of heart failure by more than 300 percent. The three characteristics of insomnia the researchers investigated included having problems falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep not not generally feeling refreshed in the morning. 

"Those reporting suffering from all three insomnia symptoms simultaneously were at considerably higher risk than those who had no symptoms or only one or two symptoms," said Laugsand. 

It's noteworthy that Laugsand and his associates don't know if insomnia causes heart failure, but simply drew a correlation between the two conditions with their study of almost 55,000 people between 1995 and 2008. The scientists took other heart failure risk factors like smoking and obesity into account.  

Other health risks of not getting enough sleep
The Huffington Post put together a set of other studies that have linked sleep deprivation to conditions other than simply being tired. For starters, the news source points to findings presented at the SLEEP 2012 conference, which show that less than six hours of sleep per night increased the odds of having a stroke for people who were at least middle-aged. Being overweight or obese – also a stroke risk factor – was taken into consideration, so the results indicate that even middle-aged individuals who excel at weight management up their stroke risk by not sleeping enough. 

The source also notes that not sleeping the recommended seven to eight hours per night has been linked with osteoporosis, often a determent to healthy aging, although only specifically in laboratory rats. In this study, from the Medical College of Wisconsin, rats who were denied sleep for extended periods of time had diminished bone density by the end of the study.

Ways to go about getting a better night's sleep
Fortunately, as Tim Chico, M.D., of the University of Sheffield recently told Express, a U.K. news source, people should be able improve their abilities to sleep soundly by exercising more, not smoking and eating healthier. These actions also decrease the risk of developing numerous other conditions, he said.

Also, hitting the sack earlier can be an even simpler adjustment to make than it sounds. CBS News recently documented a few common methods for improving sleep. 

Setting up a specific bedtime is said to help people develop an internal clock that tells them when it's time to pass out. Even if you don't fall asleep immediately upon lying down, going to bed seven to eight hours before you need to wake up at least improves that odds that you'll actually get that amount of sleep, states CBS. 

Late night TV is also noted as a deterrent to getting enough sleep. CBS advises readers to record late night programs like "The Daily Show" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" – but then again, many late night shows are available online as soon as the next morning.