The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation causes more than a slow, groggy morning. A good night’s sleep is just as important to the human body as eating or breathing. You need at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night otherwise; you will feel tired, groggy, grumpy, and sleepy all day long.

While there’s nothing wrong with sleeping late once in a while, skimping on sleep regularly will have a substantial impact on your overall health and well-being. And if you think getting three to four hours of sleep several times in a week is harmless, think again:

10 Dangerous Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Increased Risk of Accidents

Did you know that sleep deprivation is one of the major causes of road accidents in the US? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, drowsy driving contributes to about 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013 alone. In 2014, 846 people lost their lives on the road for falling asleep behind the wheel.

Sleep deprivation is extremely dangerous when driving because the lack of sleep can make a driver less attentive hence, the reaction slows down too. Drowsy driving affects a driver’s ability to make decisions and one mistake is all it takes to cause an accident.

Mental Issues

When the body did not have enough time to rejuvenate itself through sleep, the brain will have a hard time processing information. Why? As you sleep, the brain does not stop processing information. Various sleep cycles allow the brain to consolidate memories so you’ll remember all the experiences you learned during the day. Sleep deprivation causes attention, concentration, problem solving, reasoning, and alertness impairment. When you’re not getting enough sleep at night, the brain won’t be able to work at its peak.

Heightened Health Risks

Yes, sleeping late night after night will have dire effects on your health. Sleep deprivation is linked to a variety of chronic conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Obesity
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes

Sleep deprivation may lead to insomnia, a sleep disorder that causes trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Memory Loss

Sleeping late will take its toll on your mental alertness. During deep levels of sleep, the brain activity called sharp wave ripples occurs to consolidate and restore long-term memories. When the brain is unable to go through this phase fully, you wake up forgetful and less alert all day long.

Depression

One sobering fact about sleep deprivation is that it increases the risk and enhances the symptoms of depression. In fact, one of the first signs of depression is the lack of sleep. Studies show that people who suffer from anxiety and/or depression were more likely to sleep less than six hours at night. A 2007 study also found that patients suffering from insomnia are 5 times more likely to develop depression.

Depression and insomnia go hand in hand, if a person is unable to get a full night’s rest, the symptoms of depression are aggravated, making sleeping a struggle night after night.

Image used under Creative Commons from Jonathan Bowen

Accelerated Aging

Ever wonder why the skin looks dull, puffy, and sallow after missing on sleep for a few nights? Sleep deprivation ages the skin, causing fine lines, dark circles, uneven skin tone, lackluster skin, and even acne. When the body is not getting enough zzzs, the level of stress hormone cortisol shoots up. The excess cortisol in the body starts breaking the skin collagen down. Collagen is the protein that keeps the skin youthful looking, plump, and smooth. Sleep deprivation leads to shortened tissue repair at night, which contributes to premature aging.

Low Libido

Studies show that sleep-deprived men and women have a lower sex drive and reduced interest in sex compared to people who are getting enough sleep at night. The lack of energy, increased tension, and chronic fatigue from sleeping late at night causes a sexual slump.

The lack of sleep has serious and long-term effects among men who suffer from sleep apnea. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, about 50% of sleep-deprived men who participated in the experiment secreted abnormally low levels of testosterone.

Obesity

Lack of sleep is linked to obesity. In fact, a 2004 study found that sleep-deprived people are 30% more likely to become obese than people who get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep. When you did not get enough sleep at night, the body starts craving more sugars the day after, compelling you to eat more. Lack of sleep increases the level of hunger hormone ghrelin while decreasing the level of appetite suppressant leptin. The uneven balance of hormones boosts the appetite for fatty, greasy, carbohydrates-rich foods.

Shorter Lifespan

Habitual sleep deprivation will ultimately lead to a shorter lifespan. Studies show that people who get 5 to 6 hours of sleep at night increase their risk of death from all causes by 50%. In particular, sleep deprivation may lead to death caused by cardiovascular disease.

Impaired Judgment

You are more likely to make a bad decision when you’re sleepy. When you’re sleepy, your interpretation of events is affected and since you cannot assess situations accurately, you don’t act on them wisely. Mental alertness and physical performance go out of the window when you’re sleep-deprived so you may feel fine and functional despite not getting enough sleep but since you lose touch with how impaired you are, your performance at work will suffer. This is a dangerous situation for those who have high-risk jobs in construction, trucking, etc. Some of the biggest disasters in the world – such as the Three Mile Island accident, the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill – were all caused by sleep deprivation!