Is Too Little or Too Much Sleep Dangerous To Our Health?

Is Too Little or Too Much Sleep Dangerous To Our Health?

Susan Clinton PT, DScPT, OCS, WCS, FAAOMPT, NBHWC

Finding yourself burning the midnight oil these days trying to get everything done? What time do you go to bed? Do you go to bed at the same time every night, or does it vary depending on how long you work?

I know I have recently found my bedtime creeping later and later, giving me less and less sleep as I try to focus on the many areas of my business as a PT, wellness coach, podcast host, educator and so on and so on.

But is this healthy for us?

In short, no.

Every creature on the planet needs sleep. Even fish take time during the day to rest, reducing their activity and metabolism. 

For humans, sleep is the body’s time to reset itself, process any thoughts and memories, and heal itself. 

Many of the body’s background systems can be impacted by too little sleep, and research from the NIH suggests that getting less than 5 hours of sleep per night or more than 9 hours can reduce the life expectancy of a person.

The amount of sleep you should be getting

Other studies suggest that healthy adults require at least 6-8 hours of shut eye a night for normal body functions.  But it’s not just the hours you spend in bed that are important. It is the QUALITY of sleep that you are getting.

Sleep is broken down into 5 phases:

  1. Phase 1- Non REM sleep. This stage lasts only a few minutes and it is the transition between awake and sleep when your heart rate and breathing slow down and you start to relax
  2. Phase 2- Non REM sleep. This stage lasts about 25 mins and is a period of light sleep. During this phase your body temperature starts to drop and your heart rate slows down further.
  3. Phase 3 and 4- Slow Wave Non REM sleep. These are the deepest sleep stages and this is where most of the body’s healing and processing takes place. During this stage it is generally difficult to arouse someone, the body is fully relaxed, and the immune system strengthens and tissues regenerate.
  4. Phase 5- REM sleep. This stage happens about 1.5 hours after you fall asleep and lasts about 10 mins during the first cycle and up to 60 mins during the final cycle. Dreams happen primarily during this stage of sleep.

In total, you should enter at least 4 or 5 cycles per night, which amounts to the 6-8 hours of recommended sleep for healthy adults.

Failure to take in these critical moments of shut eye can lead to increased need for sleep during the day and result in $50 billion lost in work productivity and up to 6,000 fatal car crashes per year.

Ways to improve the quality and length of your sleep

Let’s start by asking a few questions:

  1. Do you snore or are you being kept awake at night by someone else snoring?

            This can be a sign of sleep apnea– a momentary stoppage of breathing that can last up to 30 seconds during sleep. If you think this might be you, please consult your physician as this can be a life threatening condition.

  1. Am I up several times during the night to go to the bathroom?

            Getting up more than 1 time per night is considered abnormal. Reducing the amount of liquids you consume before bed can help with this. Increased night urination could also be attributed to sitting for long periods of time during the day and this is the time the kidneys work to eliminate any extra fluid that may be in your legs from prolonged sitting. Either way, if increased night time urination has you up more than 1 time per night, consult your doctor for a workup to determine the cause.

If falling asleep or staying asleep are your problem, try the following tips to help improve your sleep.

  • Decrease or avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine in the afternoon and evening hours.
  • Reassess your sleeping environment- what is the temperature? What is the lighting situation? Can you hear outside sounds? To learn more about sleep environments, check out this article from the sleep foundation.
  • Avoid all electronics 1-2 hours before bedtime
  • Have the same bedtime and wake time everyday, even the weekends.

The Takeaway

In order to function normally, efficiently and optimally, we need to sleep. Pulling an “all nighter” to get a big project done benefits no one and makes your mental functioning diminished and puts your overall health and well-being at risk.

If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get the recommended hours of shut eye a night, you can reach out to me through my website, Embody-pt.com or through email, susan@embody-pt.com for further help and guidance on improving your sleep habits.

Susan is an award-winning Physical Therapist in professional achievement, a certified health and wellness coach, and co-owner of Embody Physiotherapy and Wellness in Sewickley, PA. She is an international instructor of post-professional education in women’s health (including GI issues in women), orthopedic manual therapy, and business psychology. Susan is the co-founder and board member for the foundation: Global Women’s Health Initiative. She is also the co-host of the 5 five-star podcast, “Tough to Treat,” the guide to treating complex patients, and “The Genius Project,” reframing the treatment of persistent musculoskeletal pain.