The CDC just released a report that illustrated an association between getting less than 7 hours of sleep with an increased risk for diabetes, hypertension, mental distress and a host of other things.
This is disappointing news for many of us working in the healthcare industry! I’ve talked to many of my fellow classmates who are quite clearly putting in long hours to study for exams and boards. I’m sure this is adds to the stress and frustration that many medical students will ultimately experience. However, I think that this report is an excellent example of understanding what association means. By no means does this report suggest that getting less than 7 hours of sleep causes those diseases that I mentioned above. There are many alternative ways to look at this claim. For instance, it may be possible that people with diabetes, hypertension, etc are more likely to get less than 7 hours of sleep. Perhaps the nature of illnesses make it more likely that these patients receive poor sleep quality. Or maybe people with high stress jobs are more likely to develop these diseases and the sleep quality is simply inherent to their lifestyle. This is precisely why claims like these must be taken with a grain of salt.
Unfortunately, the media will propagate this idea that less than 7 hours of sleep increases your risk for terrible diseases. Part of our jobs as physicians, in my opinion, is to educate our patients about claims like these. Misinformation tends to persist and I think it’s our job to try to minimize the fear!