The Many Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
When was the last time you felt that you enjoyed a solid, restorative night of sleep? If it’s been too long to remember, you’re not alone. The CDC estimates that 50-to-70 million adults suffer from a sleep or wakefulness disorder, making sleep deficiency an issue of great concern. Further, 60 percent of adults have sleep problems a few nights a week or more, as reported by the National Sleep Foundation. Lack of sleep can have both near and far-reaching outcomes, from causing serious individual health conditions or resulting in accidents in the car or on the job that can endanger others.
While the amount of sleep required for the body to optimally function differs from person to person and tends to change with age (with children and teens requiring more hours than adults), the National Institutes of Health suggests that most adults still need 7-8 hours. In reality, many adults are logging 6 or less hours a night, according to multiple sources of public health surveys. Instead of getting sufficient shut-eye, they are relying on caffeine and power naps to try and compensate for sluggishness, lack of focus, and other symptoms of sleep deficiency that occur throughout the day.
Unfortunately, quick fixes like stimulants and short snoozes are hardly the answer to chronic sleep issues. Sleep is one of the most fundamental pillars to health, playing a vital role in both mental and physical well-being, according to the National Sleep Foundation. From restoring cells to synthesizing hormones, rest obtained through proper sleep is vital for many functional processes of the body. In turn, the list of negative health effects linked to sleep deprivation is quite extensive.
Starting in the brain, lack of sleep can lead to all kinds of recall, concentration, coordination and emotional problems. Exhaustion can quickly kill focus and deter memory consolidation, making learning and retaining information difficult, according to research from Harvard sleep science studies. This can therefore influence everything from job performance to household tasks both important and mundane, like forgetting key facts during a presentation to remembering to unload the washing machine. Sleep deficiency can also wreak havoc on emotions. While a good night’s rest can regulate mood and help to cope with daily stressors, just the opposite is true without it. A University of California, Berkley found that study participants deprived of sleep were unable to put emotional experiences into proper context and give appropriate, rational responses.
Linked closely with decreased alertness and trouble making logical decisions, the risk for car accidents is said to be at a three-fold risk for sleep-deprived drivers, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The risk is even higher for shift workers and those who work greater than 60 hours a week. Industrial accidents are also much more likely for sleep-deprived workers.
The potential for trouble continues throughout the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep issues can affect the immune system, weakening resilience to colds and viruses as well as lengthening recovery time. A Carnegie Mellon University study found that getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night led to a tripled risk of coming down with a cold. In the long-term, compromised immunity can cause a host of other illnesses.
Without deep periods of rest, the body is unable to efficiently regulate blood pressure and heart rate. This increases the risk of cardiovascular problems, including stroke and heart disease. Other serious complications of chronic sleep deprivation include increased risk of certain cancers, as well as a higher risk for diabetes.
Sleep deprivation can take a toll on the skin and even lead to premature aging, as well. According to WebMD, sleep deprivation causes decreased blood flow to skin near the face. Without sleep, the body is unable to rehydrate itself, leading to water imbalance. Besides unsightly dark circles and puffiness, the skin begins to look dull and dry, with more visible wrinkles.
Lack of sleep can even have a direct effect on metabolism, leading to increased production of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, with lowered leptin, the satiety hormone. In turn, this leads to higher cravings and increased hunger for fatty, high-carbohydrate foods – and subsequent weight gain. Many studies, including research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggest that there is a strong link to sleep loss and the obesity epidemic.
With so many potential health risks, it is important to identify any underlying causes of sleep disorders with the help of a medical professional. From there, proper sleep hygiene can be established, helping to restore quality nighttime sleep patterns and daytime alertness. This includes establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, avoiding excessive stimulants or alcohol and getting regular exercise. Avoid heavy meals before bed, and cut out naps – both can disrupt normal sleep patterns.