Harmful Effects from Lack of Sleep and How to Beat Them
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the proper amount of sleep varies from person to person. Although there is no magic number, studies have found that adults typically need somewhere between 6.5 hours and 9 hours of sleep per night to function best.
But what happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
Other than being tired, can the consequences really be that bad?
The simple answer is: Yes.
Sleep Deficits Build over Time, but Negative Effects Can Be Seen Right Away
As you miss sleep, you accumulate what is referred to as “sleep debt.” The effects of this sleep debt can be seen immediately in one or more of several ways, including:
- Excessive tiredness or, oddly enough, excessive adrenalin
- Decreased daytime alertness
- Impaired memory and cognitive ability
According to a 1997 sleep study, people who only received 4 to 5 hours of sleep per night for a week, needed two full nights of sleep to eliminate that sleep debt and recover.
Potential Health Risks from Sleep Deprivation
Short-term effects are only part of the problem. Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can put you at risk for numerous serious health issues, including:
- Heart disease, including heart attacks, heart failure, and irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Death (one study showed this risk doubled when sleep cut from 7 to 5 hours per night)
Some researchers estimate that as many as 90 percent of people who suffer from insomnia are also affected by at least one other health condition (typically one listed above).
Mental Clarity and How It Is Affected by Lack of Sleep
It’s no coincidence when you have trouble focusing after a bad night’s sleep. Because sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning, the lack of sleep can impair your cognitive processes.
Some of the mental effects of sleep deprivation include:
- Impairment of judgment
- Inability to concentrate and pay attention
- Difficulty in problem solving and reasoning
- Lack of alertness
- Increased mental exhaustion and stress
- Higher risk of depression
Additionally, over time a sleep deficit can impair your judgment about sleep itself. You may believe that you are functioning fine on less sleep, but in reality, your mental alertness continues to decrease.
Physical Repercussions from Missing Sleep
Do you care how you look? Many of us do.
Did you know that the lack of sleep can affect your appearance in more ways than one? It’s true.
It’s more than just bloodshot eyes or dark circles under your eyes. A lack of sleep can cause you to gain weight and can prematurely age your skin.
There have been several studies that have linked lack of sleep with weight gain. In a 2004 study, it was determined that reduced sleep altered hormones, which triggered not only increased hunger and appetite, but also cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods.
Another sleep study further concluded that decreased sleep increased the genetic risk of an elevated body mass index (BMI).
Aging Your Skin
When your sleep debt increases, you may begin to notice fine lines, sallow skin, and bags under your eyes.
Sleep deprivation causes your body to release an increased amount of cortisol, a stress hormone. Excessive amounts of cortisol can break down the collagen in your skin. This breakdown can cause the skin to wrinkle and lose its elasticity. Also, sleep loss will reduce your body’s production of growth hormone – this hormone is responsible for thickening skin, strengthening bones, and increasing muscle mass.
Other Issues that Arise from Excessive Sleep Debt
Sleep deprivation can hinder your life in other ways too. It can affect your sex drive and can lead to accidents.
Kills sex drive
In a 2002 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism sleep specialists noted that sleep-deprived individuals reported lower libidos and less interest in sex. It is believed that depleted energy and sleepiness may be to blame.
Fatigue and drowsiness can slow your reaction time as much as excessive alcohol consumption. Sleep deprivation cause accidents elsewhere too. Sleep deprivation was a contributing factor in the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the Chernobyl meltdown, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and other major accidents.
Combating Insomnia and Trouble Sleeping
There are many at-home remedies to treat mild insomnia. If you are having trouble falling asleep, try these recommendations from the Mayo Clinic:
- Go to sleep at the same time each night and awake at the same time each morning
- Get out of bed if you have not been able to fall asleep within 20 minutes
- Use your bed only for sleeping and sex
- Drink an herbal tea (like Calli® Night Herbal Beverage) to relax before bed
- Find nighttime activities that help you relax, including a warm bath, yoga, reading, etc.
- Avoid (or at least limit) naps
- Remove distractions (electronics, noise, uncomfortable temperature) from your bedroom
- Exercise regularly, but at least five hours before bedtime
- Avoid caffeine after lunchtime
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine
- Do not eat a large meal before bedtime
- Check your medications for stimulants
- Treat pain before bed
- Hide your bedroom clocks, so you are not fixated on the time
If these methods do not work, seek medical attention for your insomnia.