A lack of sleep is a common problem that affects millions of people around the world, yet a lot of individuals don’t stop to think about the effects of sleep deprivation.
When someone has less sleep than they need in order to feel awake and alert, they are considered sleep deprived. We vary in terms of how little sleep is needed to deem us as sleep deprived though. For example, older adults are more resistant to sleep deprivation and children seem to be more vulnerable.
Ongoing lack of sleep can lead to obvious signs of daytime sleepiness, emotional difficulties, and poor job performance; however, there are other effects of sleep deprivation that you may not be as familiar with.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body
There are both physical effects of sleep deprivation and mental effects of sleep deprivation.
Dumbs you down
Getting sleep plays an important part in our thinking and learning abilities. A lack of sleep interrupts these cognitive processes. It can impair alertness, attention, reasoning, concentration, and make it much more difficult to solve problems. During sleep, the different sleep-cycles help bring memories together. Poor sleep means it will be harder to remember what you learned during the day.
Chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. Research suggests that 90 percent of people who suffer from insomnia also have another health condition.
Kills sex drive
Sleep specialists report that both sleep-deprived men and women complain about lower libidos. Fatigue and increased tension could be partly to blame. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism indicated that men with sleep apnea have low testosterone levels.
A long-term effect of sleep deprivation is depression. Insomnia has the strongest link to depression. A 2007 study involving 10,000 individuals showed that those who suffered from insomnia were five times as likely to develop depression than those who got a good night’s sleep. Sleeplessness and depression is a frustrating cycle. Lack of sleep aggravates depression and depression can make it harder to fall asleep.
After a few nights of poor sleep, most people have puffy eyes or sallow skin. Those who experience chronic sleep loss can develop fine lines and dark circles under the eyes. When you don’t get enough sleep, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which in excess amounts can break down skin collagen. Lack of sleep also leads to the body releasing too little human growth hormone. As we age, this hormone helps to increase muscle mass and strengthen bones.
If you are sleep deprived, keeping your memory sharp isn’t easy. Researchers say that “sharp ripples” that occur during the deepest levels of sleep help store long-term memories.
While research continues in this area, we know that lack of sleep seems to increase hunger. One study conducted in 2004 showed that people who got less than six hours of sleep per day were almost 30 percent more likely to become obese than people who slept seven to nine hours each day. In terms of appetite, studies show that lack of sleep decreases leptin, which helps signal the brain to suppress appetite. Unfortunately, sleep loss stimulates cravings for high-fat foods.
Risk of death
A number of studies have been conducted on the relationship between lack of sleep and mortality. One study published in 2007 looked at how sleep impacted the mortality of 10,000 British civil servants over two decades. What they discovered was that people who went from seven to five hours or less sleep a night almost doubled their risk of death from all causes. For instance, lack of sleep doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
It turns out that when we don’t get enough sleep, it can hamper our ability to make good judgments. People who are sleep deprived often have a hard time assessing what lack of sleep is doing to them. On mental alertness and performance tests, these individuals rarely do well.
Central nervous system
Sleep is needed to keep our central nervous system functioning properly. The central nervous system sends signals throughout our body, but chronic lack of sleep disrupts the sending of these signals. As a result, coordination skills can be interrupted thus increasing your risk of accidents. Since the same system sends signals to the nerve cells (neurons) in the brain, this is how memory and learning become impaired.
While extreme, some people who are sleep deprived for a very long time start to hallucinate while others run the risk of impulsive behavior, paranoia, and even suicidal thoughts. People can also experience microsleep, which is short episodes (few seconds or minutes) of falling asleep during the day without realizing it.
A lack of sleep prevents your immune system from building up its protective forces. This means that if you don’t get the proper sleep, your body may have a hard time-fighting invaders. If you do become ill, it could mean that it will take you longer to recover.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to a nighttime breathing disorder referred to as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). People with OSA are more prone to respiratory infections, including flu and the common cold. If you have an existing respiratory disease, a lack of sleep can make symptoms worse.
Sleep has an impact on the system that keeps the heart and blood vessels healthy. It also plays a part in the body’s ability to heal blood vessels and the heart. People who don’t get enough sleep are more prone to cardiovascular disease. Many studies have linked insomnia to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
In our modern society, functioning on less sleep seems to be the norm as opposed to the exception. Some people seem to treat it with humor, but it isn’t a laughing matter.
Sleep experts say that you might think that you are doing just fine with less sleep, but when it comes to the long-term effect of sleep deprivation, you are likely wrong. You may find out the hard way that you have a big problem. For instance, when you forget something at work or make a bad decision, it can be an eye-opener.
If you are suffering from a lack of sleep, discuss it with your doctor sooner rather than later.
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