Health Risks Of Sleep Deprivation

May 9, 2024

It's common knowledge that the recommended amount of sleep adults need is seven to nine hours a night. However, more than a third of Americans fail to meet this recommendation. Sleep deprivation happens when individuals don't regularly meet the amount of sleep they need. Many factors can contribute to sleep deprivation, like insomnia, long work hours, school, and taking care of young children. Usually, sleep deprivation is related to a lack of good sleep habits, especially with the many responsibilities that compel individuals to stay awake. Most know the symptoms of sleep deprivation, like feeling tired, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, and lack of coordination. It's so widespread in our fast-paced society that we forget to consider the potential long-term health risks of sleep deprivation.

Increased Risk of Injury and Accidents

Around 100,000 deaths occur annually in the United States due to human error resulting from sleep-deprivation. Driving on little sleep has been compared to driving drunk. In fact, driving after not sleeping for eighteen hours straight is equal to driving with a blood-alcohol level of .05, compared to the .08 that signals someone is drunk. The increased risk of injury and accidents also results from low reaction time caused by sleep deprivation. Making quick choices becomes more difficult, and performance is greatly stunted. These are important factors when driving, operating machinery, or even performing physical activity. Without a full night's rest, an individual's potential in performing activities is reduced, and possible injuries become more likely to occur.

Can Result In Serious Health Issues

Sleeping regularly is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, preventing most major illnesses. Chronic sleep deprivation, however, can result in serious health issues over time. Without the nightly repair sleep gives the body, it's more likely for individuals to develop high blood pressure, stroke, and other heart diseases. Since sleep is an important part of regulating metabolism and eating habits, obesity is also a risk. The hormonal imbalance caused by sleep, especially in regards to insulin, which regulates blood sugar, results in an increased possibility of diabetes. Even in the short-term, losing a few hours of sleep can greatly depress the immune system, making the body vulnerable to illnesses.

Reduces Cognitive Function

Sleep deprivation vastly reduces cognitive function by impairing attention and memory. It is difficult for individuals to keep prolonged attention on a task if they're nodding off. Even when they think they are focused, they will be more likely to miss little details. Living on little sleep reduces the ability to learn well, since sleep is when the body rejuvenates itself and the brain solidifies the information taken in throughout the day. It takes longer to solve problems or think critically, and managing emotions is more difficult. If individuals have to choose between preparing for an exam or work presentation and getting enough sleep, they should always go for sleep.

Can Contribute to Depression

Depression is a psychological disorder characterized by chronic, long-term feelings of hopelessness. It comes with a host of other unpleasant symptoms like fatigue, poor eating habits, and sleep problems. Whether it be hypersomnia, a disorder in which the affected individual sleeps too much, or insomnia, where the patient sleeps too little, both have been associated with depression. Sleep deprivation and depression have always had a close relationship. Although it is unclear which one causes which, trouble sleeping can greatly contribute to depression. Without proper rest, increased levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, make the body tense and moods irritable. Lack of sufficient rest further adds to the lethargy seen in depression, making it more difficult to do activities needed to get out of a depressive state, like exercise or hang out with loved ones. The emotional instability caused by sleep deprivation can exacerbate the negative feelings of depression.

Can Increase Weight Gain

When individuals don't get enough sleep, especially over a long period, the resulting hormonal imbalances can lead to weight gain. Many individuals feel their hunger skyrocket when they are sleep-deprived. This is because reduced sleep triggers an increase in the ghrelin hormone, which amplifies an individual's appetite. Since the energy individuals would have gotten from sleep is reduced, their body craves more high-carbohydrate, high-fat foods. At the same time, leptin, another hormone that manages an individual's appetite and signals to the body when to stop eating, decreases. The result is a perfect environment where a lack of sleep can increase weight gain. Along with these hormonal imbalances, more of the stress hormone, cortisol, is secreted to make up for the lack of energy. Cortisol increases stress in the body, leading to stress-eating and cravings for high-calorie foods.

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