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Too little sleep contributes to chronic health conditions, accidents

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Deborah Van Fleet

(Nebraska News Connection) Feeling drowsy during the day isn't the only problem associated with getting too little sleep, which is the case for nearly one-third of U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency also reported that insufficient sleep puts people at greater risk for chronic health conditions, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and depression - not to mention accidents caused by sleepiness.

Dr. Ravi Johar, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare, said the opposite is also true. 

"Sometimes there may be underlying medical problems that are making it difficult for you to sleep," he said. "And the other thing that's really important, that people don't realize, is how much stress and behavioral health issues can factor into their sleep."

In a CDC survey by state, from 24 percent to 33 percent of Nebraska adults reported getting less sleep than is recommended. Experts advise aiming for seven to eight hours per night.

Dr. Alyson Hanish, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing, said "good sleep hygiene" means following roughly the same schedule, even during weekends and vacations, and limiting anything that can "ramp up your brain" close to bedtime. Equally important are healthy daytime habits that contribute to good sleep. 

"Getting enough light, getting some time outside," she said. "Thinking about your diet and exercise, and caffeine and alcohol consumption, and really building yourself first to have healthy sleep habits before seeking medical attention."

Hanish stressed that trouble breathing at night, sleep apnea and insomnia are conditions that require medical intervention. She encouraged anyone who feels they do just fine with five to six hours of sleep to take a serious look at how they're functioning. 

"Are they able to feel good during the day," she said. "Do they feel like they need caffeine or something to keep themselves awake. Do they feel themselves sort of dozing off, or closing their eyes. How is their daytime functioning impacted."

She maintained that, more often than not, people who consistently sleep less than seven to eight hours a night are not able to function optimally throughout the day.