The role of sleep in human health

The importance of sleep, and the role it has in our health and development was the subject of the latest installment of Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar’s public lecture series, Ask the Expert.

Dr. Shahrad Taheri, Professor of Medicine at WCM-Q and an expert on sleep, explained that the role of sleep in human health is only just being understood, but that getting insufficient rest can potentially have serious effects on the body. Dr. Taheri said: “Adults spend about one third of our lives asleep yet it is one of the least understood areas of human behavior. Increasingly though, studies demonstrate that getting sufficient sleep is vital to our long term health, and may even be as significant as diet and exercise in regulating the body’s biological processes.”

Dr. Taheri told the audience that with increasingly busy, technology-fuelled lives, humans are sleeping fewer hours each night than ever before – and this may have negative consequences for health and performance. For example, sleeping for shorter periods has been associated with an increased risk of being overweight, along with type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There are also many common sleep disorders that may affect a quarter of all adults and which have significant consequences for their health. However, many sufferers of these disorders are unaware that they have them.

Dr. Taheri said: “With studies showing that a lack of sleep can have a serious bearing upon health, it would be worth ensuring that we all get sufficient rest. For adults, this means getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, depending on the individual. Those for whom falling asleep is difficult should avoid exercise, nicotine and caffeine before sleep and try to relax in the hours leading up to bedtime. They should ensure their room is dark and set a regular times for going to bed and waking, so allowing their body to get used to a pattern.”

The Ask the Expert lectures are interactive public talks that are part of WCM-Q’s Sahtak Awalan – Your Health First campaign. They aim to help the public understand health matters and encourage them to make positive changes to their lives.