Chronic Effects of Sleep Deprivation Health, Weight Loss and Longevity
Sleep is a fundamental human need, as it is just as important for mental and physical functioning as breathing, eating, and drinking. Getting enough sleep and getting sleep of good quality is essential to maintaining your health and wellness.
Unfortunately, many people do not get enough sleep. In the busy hustle and bustle of everyday life, sleep ends up being a low priority. Although adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep nightly (1), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDDC) reports that about one in three adults in the U.S. do not get enough sleep. Additionally, 40 percent of people accidentally fall asleep during the day at least once monthly (2).
Sleep deprivation happens when you do not sleep enough hours every night. Sleep deprivation can have detrimental effects on your health, affecting things such as mood and your ability to function throughout the day. This article will review the negative impact of chronic sleep disorders and solutions to mitigate these effects.
Sleep deficiency can have widespread physical effects throughout your bodies. Numerous studies have explored its impact, concluding that sleep loss can affect your nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune system. More specifically, not getting enough sleep can contribute to:
- Cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Large studies demonstrate that lack of sleep is associated with heart attacks and stroke. In fact, individuals that got less than five hours of sleep had a 45 percent increased risk of heart attack.
- Diabetes and high blood sugar. Sleep-related disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can increase your chances of developing diabetes, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance.
- Obesity. There is a link between how much sleep you get and incidence of obesity. This will be discussed later in the article.
- Alcohol use. Insomnia can lead to an alcohol dependency, and an alcohol dependency can also contribute to insomnia (1).
Lack of sleep is strongly linked to the development of mental illness. Insomnia, a sleep disorder in which it is difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get good quality sleep, is a risk factor for depression. In fact, 15 to 20 percent of individuals with insomnia also have major depression.
Insomnia is also a risk factor for other psychiatric disorders, including conditions such as anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, and nicotine addiction. One study found that insomnia caused a five-fold increase in risk of developing panic disorder (1).
In addition to causing mood conditions, sleep deprivation can also negatively impact cognition. When you lack sleep, you have more trouble maintaining focus and attention. Additionally, both your short- and long-term memory are impaired. It may also be difficult to make decisions (3).
One of the numerous physical detriments that sleep deprivation can cause is weight gain. While things such as diet and exercise are important to losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, sleep can also play a significant role. There are several hypotheses surrounding this phenomenon.
How much sleep you get can affect your appetite, in turn affecting how much food you eat and how much weight you gain. Sleep deprivation causes a dysregulation of ghrelin and leptin, two hormones important to appetite, in the body. On study found that men getting four hours of sleep had decreased leptin and increased ghrelin compared to those getting 10 hours of sleep. These neurotransmitter differences can contribute to elevated appetite and decreased feelings of satiety.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to metabolic dysregulation, increasing insulin resistance and blood sugar intolerance. Lack of sleep also causes you to be more fatigued and have less energy, making you less motivated to work out or to have a good workout. Additionally, if you are awake for longer, you may use that additional time to eat, causing weight gain (4). All of these effects can ultimately impact your ability to lose weight.
Because lack of sleep can increase your risk of serious and long-term health issues, it can also impact your longevity. Conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity can cause serious health complications, contributing to your chances of death.
A study evaluating over 55,000 people analyzed the effects of sleep on life expectancy. Those that slept between seven and 8.5 hours nightly led healthier disease-free lives for longer (5). Several other studies over the last several decades have also found that sleep deprivation is linked to increased morbidity and mortality (6).
How to combat sleep deprivation
Knowing the widespread impacts that sleep deprivation can have on your health, you should prioritize getting a good night’s sleep. There are several ways to optimize your chances of getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleeps. These include:
- Engaging in physical activity. Exercising a minimum of 30 minutes a day five to six hours prior to bedtime can make falling asleep easier.
- Minimizing harmful substances. Things such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can negatively impact your ability to fall asleep.
- Maintain good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene involves implementing habits that make your body more susceptible to falling and staying asleep. Strategies include setting a bedtime and wake time, staying off of electronics an hour before bed, keeping the room at a comfortable temperature, and using your bed only for sleep.
If you still struggle with sleep after incorporating and maintaining these habits, consider talking to your doctor. Your provider may be able to offer additional solutions or medication if you have diagnosed insomnia.
Many individuals to not prioritize sleep and get less than the suggested seven to eight hours of sleep daily. Although sleep may not seem that important, sleep deprivation can have detrimental effects on your health. It can increase your risk of chronic conditions, affect your mood, and ultimately decrease your life expectancy.
Knowing these risks, you can take steps towards bettering your sleeping habits and sleep quality. This involves implementing a variety of lifestyle changes, such as working out regularly and having good sleep hygiene.