When it comes to health issues — chest pains, shortness of breath, migraine headaches — losing sleep is not usually people’s biggest concern.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, limited sleep over a long period of time can cause serious health issues, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression.
“Patients that get just four hours of sleep a night can be at serious risk of being put into an insulin resistance state or diabetes,” Dr. Carl Boethel, medical director at the Scott & White Sleep Institute, said.
The institute, which is located in Temple, is a sort of sleep laboratory, where scientists and doctors work together to study patients while they sleep. Doctors see between 40 and 50 patients a day and about 15 a night.
Boethel said there are two forms of sleeping disorders: acute sleeping disorders, such as a college student missing a night of sleep, and chronic sleeping disorders, which may persist for months or years.
The two most common chronic sleeping disorders found by doctors at the institute are insomnia and sleep apnea, he said.
Sleep apnea, a respiratory disease that interrupts an individual’s rapid eye movement or REM sleep, can cause the same effect of sleep deprivation, even though the person may remain unconscious all night.
Sleep deprivation affects your hormones, Boethel said, and can cause insulin resistance or diabetes.
Patients experience other serious forms of sleep problems, including restless leg syndrome, circadian rhythm disorders and a particularly scary malady called exploding head syndrome, which Boethel said is similar to a migraine headache but may cause hallucinations.
There are a lot of myths about sleeping, perhaps because scientists and doctors know so little about it, Boethel said. What they do know is that sleep is essential to living a healthy life.
“Sleep is really necessary,” Boethel said. “If it doesn’t mean anything it is the biggest joke of all time.”
One common belief is that senior citizens do not need a full eight hours of sleep.
Boethel said that the contrary is true; the elderly need more hours of sleep.
“They tend to just sleep worse,” Boethel said. “They have more awakenings in the night caused by health issues that may put them at risk for sleep disorders.”
When sleeping is concerned, grown-ups might want to take a cue from their children. Young people ages 7 to 12 sleep the best, Boethel said, “because they just lay down and nap whenever and where ever they need to.”
There’s no magic number of hours of sleep to get that is universal to all humans — “some people may very well do fine with less and others need more,” Boethel said — but eight hours per night is a good rule.
“It’s eight hours of our life every day, and we know very little about it, but it can lead to some very detrimental problems if you don’t take care of your sleep,” Boethel said.
The Scott & White Sleep Institute is at 2401 S. 31st St. in Temple.