By Stacey Bailey

Cottage Hospital

Americans don’t get enough sleep. More than one out of three adults report that they sleep less than seven hours a night.

Besides feeling tired all the time, too little sleep on a regular basis can also raise your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and unhealthy weight gain.

Several studies have linked insufficient sleep with an increased risk of obesity. The results show that people who habitually sleep less than six hours per night are likely to be overweight or to gain weight compared to those who sleep for eight hours.

Getting too little sleep disrupts two hormones that contribute to excess weight gain. Research shows that people who are up for extended periods of time eat an extra 300 to 550 calories per day. Here’s why: Those who sleep less than eight hours a night tend to have higher levels of the hormone ghrelin that increases appetite. They also have lower levels of the hormone leptin, which decreases appetite.

People who sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The theory is that insulin sensitivity decreases with less sleep, meaning your body can’t process the carbohydrates you eat as efficiently so blood sugar rises. Fortunately, studies have also shown that getting more sleep can help decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Heart disease risks rise by 50 percent in those who get less than six hours of sleep a night compared to those who get seven to eight hours of sleep. Increased risk of heart disease may also be linked to higher inflammation in the body.

Sleep deprivation increases the levels of many inflammatory markers and decreases the ability to fight infections such as the common cold.  In a recent study, people who slept less than seven hours a night were three times more likely to develop cold symptoms than people who slept eight or more hours.

The ability to repair and restore muscle damage also is harmed with poor sleep. People who don’t get adequate sleep may not be able to recover as well from soreness and tend to feel more muscle fatigue and tiredness the following day.

Getting adequate sleep is not a guarantee of good health, but it definitely can lower your risk for many diseases and help maintain your body’s vital functions. If you’re having trouble sleeping, here are some tips to help:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.
  • Avoid large meals before bed or late at night, as they may cause indigestion.
  • Exercise daily and finish at least three hours before bedtime. Exercising too close to bedtime can elevate your metabolism and body temperature, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Stay on a regular sleep and wake schedule, and avoid taking naps after 3 p.m.
  • Try a hot bath before bed, which lowers your body temperature and helps with sleep.
  • Avoid bright lights before sleeping, including your cell phones, tablets and computers. The blue light emitted from electronics is thought to interfere with sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom temperature cool.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to check your medications.  Some medications can interfere with sleep or contain ingredients that can affect sleep.

For more information on how to improve your health, visit

Registered Dietitian Stacey Bailey is clinical dietitian at Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospitals.