By John Salak –
Too many people suffer from sleepless nights at any time. The pandemic, to probably no one’s surprise, has only made things worse. In fact, a study in the Journal of Transnational Medicine surveyed more than 120 men and women ages 18 to 65 and found virtually all them claimed their sleep had deteriorated since Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions started.
Problems like the time required to fall asleep, limited amount of quality sleep and daytime sleepiness were even more pronounced for people working remotely and spending excessive amounts of time in front of computers and smart phones.
Okay, not getting enough sleep is a pain in the butt and can lead to dosing off at inopportune moments. But it’s just part of life so what’s the big deal? Evidentially, plenty.
Three recent studies out of Illinois, Iowa and New York report that chronic sleep problems can result in a disturbing menu of health issues that can have significant consequences.
University of Illinois Chicago, in what it claims is unprecedented work, notes that consistently disrupted sleep leads to elevated blood pressure and changes in the gut microbiome.
Its work examined how rats responded to 28 days of disturbed sleep and discovered their microbiota changed significantly during this time, coupled with undesirable increases in their arterial blood pressure. Perhaps just as disturbing is that when the disruptions stopped, the damage done did not immediately, if at all, repair itself.
These aren’t the only problems tied to poor sleep patterns. An Iowa State University study of more than 200 students and 147 community residents found that losing sleep usually leads to angry outbursts.
The Iowa State research found that well-slept individuals adapted to noise and reported less anger than those individuals who did not sleep well.
“The results are important because they provide strong causal evidence that sleep restriction increases anger and increases frustration over time,” noted Zlatan Krizan, who is a professor of psychology at Iowa State. “Moreover, the results from the daily diary study suggest such effects translate to everyday life, as young adults reported more anger in the afternoon on days they slept less.”
If these problems aren’t enough to underscore the importance of sound sleep, Columbia University Irving Medical Center reports that women who sleep poorly tend to overeat and consume a lower-quality diet. The study specifically provides new insights into the relation between poor sleep and the risk of heart disease and obesity.
Columbia’s study of 500 women was designed to get a more comprehensive view than previous work of the associations between overall diet quality and multiple aspects of sleep quality. The researchers cited the critical importance of focusing on women because they usually have a history of poor sleep.
“Women are particularly prone to sleep disturbances across the life span, because they often shoulder the responsibilities of caring for children and family and, later, because of menopausal hormones,” says Brooke Aggarwal, EdD, assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and senior author of the study.
Thankfully, there is some good news on the sleep front, at least if a sleep-troubled person is romantically involved with someone.
The University of British Columbia has come to the rescue of sorts by suggesting that individuals who were exposed to their partner’s scent overnight slept better even if their partner was not physically present.
“Our findings provide new evidence that merely sleeping with a partner’s scent improves sleep efficiency. Our participants had an average sleep efficiency improvement of more than two per cent,” said Marlise Hofer, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in the UBC department of psychology. “We saw an effect similar in size to what has been reported from taking oral melatonin supplements — often used as a sleep aid.”
The study worked by giving the 155 participants two identical t-shirts to use as pillowcases—one had been previously worn by their romantic partner and the other had either been previously worn by a stranger or was clean. They spent two consecutive nights sleeping with each t-shirt.
“One of the most surprising findings is how a romantic partner’s scent can improve sleep quality even outside of our conscious awareness,” said Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and associate professor in the UBC department of psychology. “The sleep watch data showed that participants experienced less tossing and turning when exposed to their partners’ scent, even if they weren’t aware of whose scent they were smelling.”