eight hours

  1. A wake-up call for bad sleep habits

    Judging by myself and my patients -- not to mention the bags under the eyes of many of the people I meet each day -- I'd say the biggest problem when it comes to sleep is that we don't get nearly enough of it.

    But believe it or not, it's possible to go too far in the other direction as well. Like all good things, you can get way too much sleep -- and too much sleep can be every bit as dangerous as too little.

    One new study spells out the risks I've seen before: More than eight hours of sleep a night will boost your risk of chest pain and coronary artery disease.

    Of course, the study also confirms that those of us who don't get enough should hit the hay a little earlier -- because less than six hours a night can double your risk of heart attack or stroke.

    Too little sleep can also boost the odds of congestive heart failure by 70 percent, according to the study of more than 3,000 people ages 45 and up presented at a recent American College of Cardiology conference.

    That means the sweet spot for sleep -- for most people anyway -- is between six and eight hours a night, or right around the seven nightly hours I've seen recommended from other studies.

    One of those studies found that less than six and more than eight hours can boost the risk of cognitive problems. Too little sleep leads to problems in reasoning, vocabulary, and global cognition, while too much sleep can actually hurt up to six cognitive functions, according to British researchers.

    Another study in 2010 looked at even more extreme levels of sleep, and found even more extreme results. Less than five hours a night doubles the risk of angina, heart disease, heart attack, or stroke -- while nine or more boosts the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.

    What does this mean for you? Get the right amount of sleep, of course.

    Just don't turn to meds for help. Common sleep drugs can increase the risk of a number of health problems, up to and including death itself.

  2. Risky business: Sleepless kids are bad news

    Kids who miss out on sleep aren't just groggy in school -- they're also far more likely to do all the things that give parents nightmares.

    From fistfights to fighting off depression, smoking pot to sucking back sugary drinks, researchers say kids who don't get the time they need in bed are busy doing other things… and clearly not the things you want your kids doing.

    Using data from the 2007 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the researchers found that 69 percent of 12,100 kids between 12 and 18 years old got less than eight hours of sleep a night.

    And these children -- the vast majority of kids, obviously -- were more likely to engage in some of the worst-of-the-worst activities: sex, booze, smoking, marijuana, and fistfights.

    It didn't stop there, either. These kids were also more likely to battle mood problems, including sadness and depression, and even entertain serious thoughts of suicide.

    Next to all that, the rest of the "risky" behaviors seem downright tame: The researchers say sleepless kids are more likely to drink a sugary soda each day, get less physical activity, and spend too much time on the computer.

    Maybe it's just that kids who stay up later stay out later -- and are more likely to be in situations where they'd engage in risky activities. Or maybe it's just the fact that, at 69 percent, sleepless kids make up such a huge percentage that they're more likely to do just about anything.

    Whatever the reason, as long as you keep control over what goes on in your home, make sure to set some rules about bedtime -- because even if your children aren't out boozing, smoking pot, and having sex, a lack of sleep could have an impact on everything from their waistlines to their schoolwork.

    Remember, a kid may hate the rules of the house -- but those same rules will help set either a long lifetime of good habits… or a shorter span of bad ones.

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