Moderation is a cornerstone precept in nutrition and dietetics. Excesses in lifestyle factors such as calories, alcohol, exercise, and stress are related to negative health outcomes. The same appears to be true with sleep.
The most recent study, published in the August 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association, found a “J-shaped” relationship between duration of sleep and deaths. The same relationship was observed with incidents of cardiovascular illness. Sleeping for more than seven to eight hours per night “may be associated with a moderate degree of harm” compared with sleeping less. Specifically, sleeping for nine hours per night carried a 14% higher risk of death, while 10 hours per night carried a 30% higher risk.
In addition to mortality and cardiovascular risks, excessive sleep (10 to 12 hours) seems to be related to issues seen in sleep deprivation, including metabolic problems such as diabetes and obesity, headaches, and cognitive issues such as difficulty with memory.
Sleep deprivation is defined as less than seven hours of sleep per night by the National Institutes of Health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35% of adults are sleep deprived, as are a growing number of children and adolescents.
Hypersomnia is the clinical term for excessive sleep. (It also includes excessive daytime sleepiness.) It occurs in about 2% of the population, with slightly higher rates in men. Common causes include depression, alcohol consumption, thyroid issues, sleep apnea, and obesity.
People of different ages need different amounts of sleep. Dietitians should be aware of these variations and address sleep with their patients and audiences accordingly. It’s wise to refer any sleep issues to a physician and/or sleep specialist. Maintaining healthful and consistent routines is important for not just dietary patterns but also sleep patterns. Be alert for unusually long (or short) sleep durations, and suggest clients take notes about their sleep patterns in food diaries. Moreover, impart caution about alcohol use too close to bedtime and encourage clients to review all over-the-counter and prescription medications with a pharmacist to check for sleep-related side effects.
Moderation is key for healthful sleep. As with food, not too much and not too little will improve overall quality of life.
— Pat Baird, MA, RDN, FAND, is the founder of Confident Health and Confident Golf. She’s an award-winning author, speaker, spokesperson, university professor, and consultant to global food and pharmaceutical companies.