If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, this luscious season of lingering evening light and 16-hour days makes it tempting to do everything but close your eyes and fall asleep.

But if you shortchange shut-eye, you risk damaging memory, learning, creativity, productivity, emotional stability and physical health. And did we mention you’re more likely to gain weight?

Several studies show that adults who sleep less than five or six hours nightly are at higher risk for being overweight.

Even though some subjects’ metabolism increased, meaning they burned calories at a higher rate, they also ate more after dinner and tended to overeat carbs, leading to overall weight gain. Sleep-deprived people also have less leptin (which turns off appetite) and more ghrelin, which stimulates appetite.

In a separate study, after only four days of sleep deprivation (4.5 hours/night), subjects’ fat cells became less sensitive to insulin—a metabolic change researchers say aged the fat cells about 20 years and pushed subjects closer to diabetes and obesity.

If the prospect of weight gain and diabetes doesn’t scare you into turning out the lights and going to sleep, how about cancer? A Japanese study of 24,000 women found that those who slept less than six hours nightly were more likely to develop breast cancer, perhaps because they secreted less of the hormone melatonin. A smaller study found an increased risk of cancerous colorectal polyps in subjects who slept less than six hours.

Children need adequate sleep to grow and repair muscles and tissues; growth hormone is released during deep sleep. As most parents have noticed, lack of sleep can also cause behavioral problems for kids. One study found that sleep-deprived children were oft misdiagnosed with ADHD.

The elderly, who are apt to suffer from sleep problems as their circadian rhythms weaken, are vulnerable to colds and flus when they don’t get enough sleep. (As are the rest of us.)

People suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, including veterans, can compound symptoms when they don’t get enough sleep. Read Jane E. Brody’s excellent summaries in The New York Times about the dangers of not getting enough sleep as well as her tips on sleep hygiene.http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/health/31brody.html

How much sleep is enough?

  • Most adults: 7 or 8 hours a night
  • Adolescents: 9 – 10 hours
  • Elementary school children: 10 hours
  • Preschoolers: 11 – 12 hours
  • Newborns: 16 – 18 hours

Visit Wellbody Academy’s Slumbertorium to learn more about sleep and get motivated to clean up your sleep act. Use the Sleeping in Seattle computer to input your age and the number of hours you slept the previous night; the interactive exhibit will compare your sleep deprivation (or level of rest!) with others in the region.