Changing the clocks this weekend might impact people’s sleep schedules for a few days, but isn’t going to have a major impact on anyone … however, repeated sleep loss can have serious consequences. Dr. Victoria Sharma of St. Louis specializes in sleep disorders. She says this weekend’s time change will affect many people’s sleep routine, but most will adjust quickly. But, she says many are losing sleep year-round, which has both immediate and long-term impacts.

Studies show getting less than six hours of sleep a night can cause “an increase in inflammatory factors in the blood, that could result in increased risks of various diseases, including cancer,” she says. “And there’s a general increase in mortality for people who sleep less than six hours per night.”

Sharma says adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep a night — but not more. Studies actually show getting more than that does not increase performance, contrary to what some might think. Likewise, “catching up” on lost hours of sleep doesn’t really work.

She says studies have also shown that people who are sleep deprived experience drops in performance, but don’t know they’re making mistakes, which can be a dangerous.

“As time goes on, people start thinking they have adapted to the sleep deprivation … but in reality they’re performance is continuing to get worse. It’s actually very dangerous,” she says. “Most people who are chronically sleep deprived arent aware fo the impact it’s having on them, so there are all kind of people driving around and making important decisions and are really not functioning at their best but aren’t aware of it.”

She says one thing keeping people from getting sleep is artificial light. Our bodies are programmed to be awake and be asleep according to the sun, but with artificial light, televisions, electronics and more, we don’t feel the urge to sleep when we normally would. Sharma recommends turning the lights down in the evening, and putting down the iPads and iPhones a few hours before bedtime. Many people turn on the television or the computer when they can’t sleep, which is really just perpetuating the problem.

Sharma says sleep apnea is on the rise with the increase in obesity rates. There are also about half a dozen different types of insomnia, keeping people awake, and having a potential to cause serious health and safety risks.

Sharma says people who suffer from sleep disorders and get them corrected often tell her it’s a life-changing experience. She says too many just accept lack of sleep as a way of life and put off getting medical attention.

Dr. Victoria Sharma is Medical Director for the SSM Center for Sleep Disorders at St. Mary’s Health Center in Richmond Heights, and St. Clare Health Center in Fenton.

Jessica Machetta reports [Mp3, 1:10 min.]