Sleepless in Hampton Roads: The long-term health risks associated with lack of sleep

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - As a part of a healthy lifestyle, it's suggested that adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. For more than a third of adults in Hampton Roads, getting that amount of sleep is just a dream.

Studies from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show on average, adults in Hampton Roads get between four and five hours of sleep.

Some effects of not getting enough sleep are emotional - like being more "edgy" and having a lower annoyance tolerance or thin patience. Other effects are more dangerous than just a bad mood.

"Having sleep problems impacts your heart, your blood pressure, chance of stroke," explained Sherry Lemay, a Sleep Technologist at Sentara Sleep Center. "Your well-being is important, so you want to take preventive actions before things get too serious or you have irreversible damage."

At the Sentara Sleep Centers, patients are hooked up to a series of machines that measure every second of your sleep. Technologists then analyze the data to see how much sleep and what type of sleep patients are getting.

Slow Wave Sleep - when your body and muscles are most relaxed - is the best type of sleep to get, according to Leah Pixley, Manager of Sentara Southside Sleep Centers.

"That is where the body gets into its healing modes," explained Pixley.

In order to get to this phase of sleep, you have to be asleep for some time - which is why those who don't dedicate a lot of time to sleep, have issues falling asleep or have issues staying asleep do not always get to this stage. While it's difficult, it's necessary for your health.

"It is something that is important to speak to your physician about and not just blow it off as 'an insignificant issue that I just have to deal with' -  it's not. It could eventually lead to much more serious health issues," said Pixley.

To achieve Slow Wave Sleep, sleep technologists suggest slowing down your activity at night. This includes staying away from electronics, especially if you wake up in the middle of the night.

"The light coming into your eyes is telling you it's 9 a.m. - time to wake up," explained Lemay. "Even after you put those things away, it takes half an hour for your brain to register it's sleepy time again. That's why it's so important for parents to take control of those devices and for the rest of us to have some discipline."

If your problems sleeping at night continue after lessening your nighttime electronic use, lessening your caffeine intake during the day and giving yourself more time to sleep at night, specialists suggest talking to your physician about next steps to take.