Harvard Study Review on Sleep and Health by a Longview Dentist

Posted on: August 1, 2016

DentistAs your dentist, we keep an eye on events that can impact all aspects of your health. Recently, a Harvard study brought to the forefront the importance of combating obesity and type 2 diabetes. The study, which studied the sleep habits of 133,353 women over 10 years, found that among the women who slept better during the night, there was a 45 percent less likely chance of developing type 2 diabetes. This study puts a spotlight on the connection between the lack of a good night’s sleep and type 2 diabetes. Since we already know that there is a connection between diabetes and obesity, and we also know there is a direct correlation between obesity and serious dental problems, it is important to take a look at some of the factors that this study found as influential to your weight and health problems.

From the perspective of a dentist, one of the most important revelations that this study had is that a failure to sleep gives you a severe case of the munchies. Essentially, when you examine this idea, it may be easy to dismiss it as something we have always known. However, it is important to note that when your body’s circadian rhythm is disturbed, it manifests a physical reaction by releasing more ghrelin. Ghrelin is the hormone in the body that increases your appetite. So while getting the munchies may be something we always knew happened when you didn’t get enough sleep, it is now apparent that it is a physical reaction by your body and not just idle eating. Additionally, a noted professor at Harvard also found that the lack of sleep causes your body to have lower levels of leptin. Leptin is the hormone in your body that sends your brain the “I’m full” message. And as a dentist, we know there are virtually no patients who will feed the midnight munchies and then brush their teeth. So while you might even be a healthy snacker — and most people are not — there is a high risk that your lack of sleep and snacking will result in dental problems as well.

A second factor found in the study is how the body reacts to tempting food when it is groggy. A prime example of this is when you smell bacon-anything and it makes you hungry. A different study, one from the University of Berkley in California, found that when your body is sleep deprived, the activity in your brain’s rewards center goes haywire at the sight, smell, or taste of a treat. This is impactful for two distinct reasons. First, it means that when you are tired, you will seek out food that makes you feel like you are rewarding yourself. Second, as your dentist, we know that these foods will typically not be healthy. The end result of seeking out feel-good food is that you will probably make a midnight snack of potato chips, ice cream, or something equally bad for you, which in turn takes you further down the road to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and problems that bring you into our dentist office.

The long and the short of the study, from a dentist’s perspective, is that getting a full night’s rest could potentially prevent tooth problems while knocking off some of that extra weight.


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