Losing Sleep

Damages to long-term health detailed at HSPH Forum

What difference does an hour of sleep make? On the Monday following the change to daylight saving time, epidemiologists have found a 6 percent to 17 percent increase in motor vehicle crashes, and the week following the change sees a 5 percent spike in heart attacks. Yet recreational media use, early school-day starts, and a culture of long shifts in some occupations all play a part in robbing us of sleep, which can contribute to hypertension, obesity, medical errors, loss of productivity, traffic accidents, depression, and behavioral problems. At a recent Forum at HSPH event, presented in collaboration with The Huffington Post, four experts from the fields of sleep medicine, nutrition and in medical errors drew on their own research and other studies to discuss the real health effects of chronic sleep deprivation, estimated by the Institute of Medicine to affect 50 to 70 million Americans.

Charles Czeisler

“Removing televisions from the bedrooms [of children is important]. Seventy percent of American children have TVs in their bedrooms, and those who do spend three hours more per day on recreational media than those who do not, and most of that is at the expense of sleep.”

Charles Czeisler, Frank Baldino, Jr., Ph.D. Professor of Sleep Medicine at HMS and chief, Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Lucian Leape

“The European Union has now for some time had a requirement that no one, residents nor staff, as I understand it, can work more than 48 hours a week. There is no evidence that I’m aware of that the European Union is turning out doctors who are significantly inferior from American. In fact, if you look at outcomes, the evidence is the other way around.”

Lucian Leape, HSPH adjunct professor of health policy and chair, Lucian Leape Institute at the National Patient Safety Foundation.

Susan Redline

“Not only is an early school start time shortening their sleep period, and putting them at risk for sleep deprivation, it’s also forcing them to shift the time when they’re asleep versus awake compared to what their normal biological rhythms should have them do.”

Susan Redline, Peter C. Farrell Professor of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Frank Hu

“Women who are sleep-deprived tend to have an unhealthy diet, they eat more calories, eat more junk food and more sweets, desserts, and high sugary foods, and also they drink more soda. So those dietary habits may contribute to increased obesity and diabetes risk associated with sleep deprivation. And the question is, why there is such a close link between our eating habits and the poor sleep. It turns out that, when we are sleep-deprived, our appetite hormones actually go up.”

Frank Hu, HMS professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and HSPH professor of nutrition and epidemiology, and principal investigator of the diabetes component of the Nurses’ Health Study.