Inadequate sleep: a threat to public health

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The importance of sleep has gained so much attention in health research that it is the focus of several major public health campaigns put forth by organisations such as CDC. Research findings related to the effects of inadequate sleep on individual health—as well as studies connecting major industrial disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill to inadequate sleep—have also driven such campaigns and fuelled the research on the impact of inadequate sleep to individual health.

Adults are recommended to aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night; however, most only average about six hours. While research once focused on total sleep, new evidence suggests mistimed or fragmented sleep may be just as detrimental as not enough total hours. Such research has led to a call for health professionals to include sleep habits in any health assessment and to develop strategies to improve sleep habits as part of everyone’s health goals.

In addition, some dietary supplements have been identified to aid in improving sleep length and quality.3 Examples include melatonin,  valerian,8 magnesium,9 lavender,10 tryptophan11 and more. Of course, no substitute exists for an overall healthy lifestyle of a balanced diet and exercise. Recent research suggested one reason this works is because a healthy lifestyle in turn impacts gut health.12 Dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the gut microbiome can negatively impact sleep.13

Addressing diet as it relates to sleep is a good place to start considering the many other health benefits associated with improving nutrition.14 Once again, it comes to living a healthy lifestyle in general, eating a diet with plenty of nutrients, exercising, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep and maintaining a “healthy gut”—it is all connected.

Susan Hewlings, Ph.D., R.D., is director of scientific affairs at Nutrasource.

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