| 10.6°C Dublin

Sleep to save your life

YOU feel more vital after a good night’s sleep.

And recent studies show you are on your way to a longer and healthier life if you regularly sleep between six and eight hours a night.

Spend nights tossing and turning, however, and you run the risk of falling victim to everything from colds and sniffles to potentially fatal conditions such as heart disease, cancer, dementia and diabetes.

Gwyneth Paltrow has revealed that she sometimes has sleep problems. The movie star has admitted that she has even turned to a book, Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival, by TS Wiley, to get some sensible shut-eye. A lack of sleep can result in some women’s bodies being exposed to damage caused by raised cholesterol, high blood pressure and increased levels of stress hormones.

Breast Cancer

A study of almost 24,000 Japanese women found that a lack of sleep can increase the risk of breast cancer. The Ohsaki National Health Insurance (NHI) Cohort Study followed women over an eight-year period. It concluded that sleeping less than six hours a night may raise a woman’s risk of suffering a cancerous tumour in her breast by more than 60pc. Melatonin is produced by the brain during sleep to regulate the body’s internal clock. It plays a key role in preventing tumours by suppressing the amount of oestrogen released.

Heart Disease

A recent study of 122,000 nurses, carried out at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, highlighted how a lack of sleep can affect a woman’s overall health. Women sleeping less than five hours a night were found to be at a higher risk of coronary heart disease. A lack of sleep raises blood pressure and affects hormone and sugar levels.


A survey of 68,000 women by Case Western Reserve University, US, found that women who sleep less than five hours a night are bigger than women who sleep seven hours a night or more.

Women suffering sleep deprivation are 70pc more likely to become obese. It’s due to leptin and ghrelin hormones which help regulate appetite.


Researchers from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, asked 210 healthy men and women without diagnosed sleep disorders to fill out a questionnaire on the quality of their sleep.

The volunteers were assessed for levels of depression, anger, hostility and how much social support they had. Dr Edward Suarez, associate professor in Duke’s department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, said: “The study suggests that poor sleep may have more serious health consequences for women than for men.

“We found that for women, poor sleep is strongly associated with high levels of psychological distress, and greater feelings of hostility, depression and anger. In contrast, these feelings were not associated with the same degree of sleep disruption in men.”


A lack of sleep can give you a cold. Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in the States found people who sleep less than seven hours a night are three times more likely to suffer from a cold as someone who sleeps eight hours or more. The study of 153 healthy men and women with an average age of 37, found a lack of sleep impairs the immune system and the body’s ability to fight viruses.


A lack of sleep increases the effect of the ageing process. People who regularly suffer problems sleeping will have pale and tired faces, which makes them look older than they actually are.

Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases when a woman doesn’t sleep well, and has a negative impact on the production of collagen, which can result in wrinkles. Lack of sleep shows up on the face in dark circles and bags under the eyes, and in sagging skin.

Brain Reaction

The brain usually works harder to compensate for the lack of sleep. Sometimes, even then the mental response time tends to be slower than normal.

Research has found that the brain doesn’t function normally without enough sleep, owing to the disturbance in certain patterns of electrical and chemical activity. The brain needs enough time to organise and store information so that it can process thinking skills. Slowness, lack of coordination and memory lapses are a few ways the brain tends to respond to a lack of sleep.