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Dr. Campbell: Is hitting the snooze button bad for your health?

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Research in the last month has shown that hitting the snooze button can contribute to weight gain, obesity and obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

Sleep is a necessity for all of us. Our bodies require sleep in order to maintain proper function and health. In fact, we are programmed to sleep each night as a means of restoring our bodies and minds. There are four stages of sleep with one through three being progressively deeper and the fourth stage is REM sleep. REM is the stage in which all muscles are paralyzed and most memorable dreams occur. From REM, the sleeper will progress back to stage one. To be completely rested we require four to five cycles each night.

The optimal amount of sleep varies by age. A University of California, San Diego psychiatry study of more than one million adults found that people who live the longest self-report sleeping for six to seven hours each night. Children and teenagers need more sleep and older adults (seniors) need less sleep.

Sleep deprivation is associated with irritability, cognitive impairment and memory loss, as well as increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, an impaired immune system and an increased risk of heart disease.

A 10 year study performed by Harvard University tracked the sleep habits and health of more than 70,000 women between the ages of 45 and 65 that had no previous history of heart disease. In the end, 934 of these women suffered from coronary heart disease and 271 died from it.

Previous studies have shown similar results for men. Short-term sleep deprivation is known to raise blood pressure and stress hormones, lower glucose tolerance and even lead to irregular heartbeats. All of these factors are precursors to coronary disease.

Heavy sleepers and sleep-deprived people use the alarm clock to terminate sleep unnaturally—they awake from a deeper stage of sleep and do not carefully cycle back to wakefulness. When people wake up on their own it feels better, though few people do this according to data from 136,000 Americans, from 2003 to 2012 in the time-use survey.

Sleep deprivation is common in adults. Large sections of the population are engaged in the use of an alarm clock for what is really a biologically premature awakening and when we use the snooze button we are in effect constantly disrupting the final 10, 20, or 30 minutes of sleep as opposed to just setting your clock another half hour later.

Hitting 'snooze' on an alarm clock could contribute to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease, a sleep scientist from the University of Pennsylvania has said. How?

There are many thoughts on how sleep deprivation contributes to heart disease. One is that by not getting proper sleep, we are not able to properly restore our immune system—inflammation contributes to heart disease and this may be one of the results of the improper sleep. In addition, the body releases extra stress hormones in response to a lack of sleep and this can put added stress on the heart.

Other studies published in 2013 showed that sleep deprivation can also impair the body’s ability to regulate the function of blood vessels—the body can no longer cause vessels to dilate and constrict as needed –this can result in heart attacks and strokes.

Though it may be difficult to adjust, sleep researchers recommend that rather than ‘snoozing’, people should go to bed earlier and set their alarm for the time they actually need to get up. In an ideal world, people would go to sleep a little bit earlier and not use an alarm clock at all. Some experts say they would like to see TV networks schedule prime-time shows earlier. According to experts, it’s much better to go to bed when you’re tired, not when they fall asleep on the couch beside Jimmy Fallon.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

Copyright WNCN 2014. All rights reserved.

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