Skimping on sleep has never been regarded as a smart move, but the long-term health risks are more serious than most people think, a new study reports.

With chronic sleep loss, the body no longer tries to catch up on rest, which can cause health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and slowed metabolism, according to researchers at Northwestern University’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology. Their study, published July 2, explored the effects of losing hours of sleep each night over an extended period of time.

Although the National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, more than 40 percent of adults reported getting less than 7 hours in 2005. That’s worse than in 1998, when 35 percent reported skimping on sleep. American adults get only 6.8 hours of sleep a night on weekdays and 7.4 hours on weekends on average, according to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation report.

Aaron D. Laposky, one of the lead researchers for the study, said that his team took a “novel approach” to examining sleep deprivation.

Typically, Laposky explained, studies have looked at the results of total sleep deprivation, but most people experience a more subtle form of deprivation where an hour or two is missed each night because they go to bed late or lie awake.

“If [lack of sleep] occurs in the short term,” Laposky added, “it’s often adaptive and healthy, but if it occurs in the long term, it can cause poor health outcomes or problems.”

Those problems include altered glucose and insulin production, which can lead to diabetes and weight gain, Laposky said.

Hardening of the arteries, which contributes to cardiovascular disease, can also be triggered by insufficient sleep, health officials noted.

Employment trending down

Job cuts in the United States fell 22 percent in June to 55,726, down from 71,115 in May due to a higher demand for workers in manufacturing, a Chicago-based job placement organization announced last week.

The recent slump is a 17-percent decrease from the 67,176 layoffs from a year earlier, according to Chicago-based Challenger Gray Christmas Inc.

However, June is usually a low month for job cuts because companies tend to have the most activity during the first and last quarters of the year. Illinois saw more than 2,300 job cuts in June, the third most in the Midwest after Missouri and Ohio.

John Challenger, chief executive officer at Challenger Gray Christmas, said the report was generally positive but called special attention to the financial and automotive industries.

In addition, almost 30,000 employees in the financial industry were laid off in the first half of 2006. That number has more than doubled, to almost 65,000, the first half of this year.

While the report shows that U.S. manufacturing companies have laid off fewer workers this year than in the same period last year, the long-term trend in Illinois has been a decline in employment.

– Complied by Terry Dean and
Medill News Service

Healthy sleep tips

Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends.

Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music.

Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.

Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.

Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.

Exercise regularly. It is best to complete your workout at least a few hours before bedtime.

Avoid caffeine products – coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, etc. – close to bedtime.

Avoid nicotine products and alcohol close to bedtime.