We all have experienced how we feel when we are not getting enough sleep. Loss of energy, heightened emotions, foggy memory, weight gain, tiredness, lack of focus…need I go on? The habit of skimping on sleep may actually cause long-term concerns in virtually every aspect of your health. In the United States, 50-70 million adults experience sleep deprivation and the numbers continue to grow. This is why it is important to know the top 10 health concerns caused by sleep deprivation.
DID YOU KNOW?
Sleep deprivation decreases levels of the fat-regulating hormone leptin AND increases the hunger hormone ghrelin. This results in an increase in hunger and appetite which can easily lead to overeating and weight gain.
It has been determined by the National Sleep Foundation that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night – not just during the work week, but every night – yes, that includes weekends. And it’s your body’s circadian rhythm, which is your sleep-wake cycle, which actually drives the rhythms of biological activity at the cellular level.
Common Causes of Sleep Deprivation
Common causes of sleep deprivation include:
- alcohol intake
- caffeine intake close to bedtime
- use of electronic devices that give off light close to bedtime
- eating refined carbohydrates before bed
- too much sleep, sleeping in
- sleep environment (night lights, EMF, room too hot/cold, outside noise, etc.)
- uncomfortable mattress
- staying up too late
- Illness (colds, allergies, sleep apnea, aches & pains, hormone imbalance)
- shift worker
- prescription and over-the-counter medications
- emotional distress (worry, anxiety, depression)
DID YOU KNOW?
One of the most interesting biological processes that take place during sleep is that your brain cells shrink by about 60 percent, which allows for more efficient waste removal.
10 Health Concerns Caused by Habitual Sleep Deprivation
- Sleep deprivation raises your risk for other diseases. The lack of restful sleep can put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, some cancers and diabetes. According to Harvard Medical School, just one night without enough sleep for those with hypertension can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day.
- Sleep deprivation lowers your critical thinking ability. Lack of sleep hurts your learning and cognitive processes in many ways. First, it impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. This makes it more difficult to learn efficiently. Second, during the night, various sleep cycles play a role in “consolidating” memories in the mind. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to remember what you learned and experienced during the day.
- Sleep deprivation can contribute to depression. A Sleep in America poll, conducted in 2005 showed that people who were diagnosed with depression or anxiety were more likely to sleep less than six hours at night. In a 2007 study of 10,000 people, those with insomnia were five times as likely to develop depression as those without. In fact, insomnia is often one of the first symptoms of depression. Insomnia and depression can actually feed on each other. Sleep loss often aggravates the symptoms of depression, and depression can make it more difficult to fall asleep. On the positive side, treating sleep concerns can help depression and its symptoms, and vice versa.
- Sleep deprivation can make you look older. Lack of sleep will cause your body to release more cortisol which is the stress hormone. Too much cortisol can trigger skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic, to break down. Sleep deprivation can also cause the body to release insufficient human growth hormone. As we age, human growth hormone helps increase muscle mass, thicken skin, and strengthen bones. Sleep expert Phil Gehrman, PhD comments: “It’s during deep sleep — what we call slow-wave sleep — that growth hormone is released. It seems to be part of normal tissue repair — patching the wear and tear of the day.”
- Sleep deprivation affects your memory. In 2009, American and French researchers determined that brain events called “sharp wave ripples” are responsible for consolidating memory. The ripples also transfer learned information from the hippocampus to the neocortex of the brain, where long-term memories are stored. Sharp wave ripples occur mostly during the deepest levels of sleep.
- Sleep deprivation can affect your weight. According to Harvard Medical School, studies have found a link between lack of sleep and weight gain. Not getting enough sleep is associated with lower levels of leptin, a hormone that alerts the brain that it has enough food, as well as higher levels of ghrelin, a biochemical that stimulates appetite. In a 2004 study, people who slept less than six hours a day were almost 30 percent more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours. Sleep loss also stimulates cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. Another recent study reported in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine showed that even the body’s fat cells need sleep in order to properly process insulin. These findings provide more evidence that adequate sleep is vital to a healthy metabolism.
- Sleep deprivation alters your hormones. Researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center in the October 23, 1999 issue of The Lancet found that chronic sleep loss can reduce the capacity of even young adults to perform basic metabolic functions, such as processing and storing carbohydrates or regulating hormone secretion Cutting back from the standard eight down to four hours of sleep each night produced striking changes in glucose tolerance and endocrine function–changes that resembled the effects of advanced age or the early stages of diabetes–after less than one week. Sleep deprivation also diminished the secretion of thyroid stimulating hormone and increased blood levels of cortisol, especially during the afternoon and evening. “Wired-n-tired” is often the feeling clients describe when certain hormones become out of balance because of sleep deprivation, creating a never-ending cycle of hunger, carbohydrate cravings, and more sleep deprivation. It is interesting to note that all of these hormone concerns quickly returned to baseline during the recovery period, when participants spent 12 hours in bed.
- Sleep deprivation affects your immune system. It is said that during sleep the body does the most healing and repair work between the hours of 10:00 PM – 2:00 AM. During restful sleep, your immune system produces protective cytokines as well as infection-fighting antibodies and cells. It uses these tools to fight off foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. These cytokines and other protective substances also help you sleep, giving the immune system more energy to defend against illness. If you are low on sleep, it means your immune system doesn’t have the time needed to build up its forces. The Mayo Clinic suggests that studies indicate not getting enough sleep can cause your body to not be able to fend off harmful invaders.
- Sleep deprivation can affect fertility. Regular disruptions with one’s normal circadian rhythm can eventually lead to disorders of the reproductive system. Most hormone secretion is controlled by your circadian clock and sleep is one of the events that has a major impact on the daily rhythms and levels secreted. Adequate and healthy sleep patterns allow the body to re-establish and/or repair those rhythms, thus aiding in the regulation of reproductive hormones. Sleep deprivation can also increase the risks of miscarriage risk and pregnancy complications.
- Sleep deprivation can increase your risk for cancer. A growing body of research suggests that lessened and poor sleep can up the risk for certain types of cancer. A 2010 study found that among 1,240 people screened for colorectal cancer, the 338 who were diagnosed were more likely to average fewer than six hours of sleep a night. Even after controlling for more traditional risk factors, polyps were more common in people who slept less, according to the study. As little as six hours of sleep a night has been linked to an increase of recurrence in breast cancer patients. Sleep deprivation may increase prostate cancer risk. In a recent study, researchers surveyed 2,102 men and followed the 1,347 men in the group who didn’t fall asleep easily and/or experienced disrupted sleep. About five years later, 135 men developed prostate cancer, with 26 of them having an aggressive form of the disease. Researchers identified a twofold risk of developing prostate cancer in men with sleep insomnia.
It’s interesting to note that in 2012 Americans spent 32.4 BILLION dollars on sleep related aids from noise machines to specialty pillows. 8.6 million Americans report taking medication to help them sleep better. Definitely, Americans are experiencing difficulty in getting restful sleep. One study suggests that, if you’re getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, even an extra hour of sleep could be a very easy way to boost your health. However, the opposite also holds true that if you are getting just one hour less of sleep a night, you may be raising your risk for many health concerns.
Since your body does the most healing and repair work during sleep, it is imperative to address and correct unhealthy sleep habits in order to feel better and to head-off future disease and health concerns. Successfully addressing sleep issues is absolutely necessary for good health.
Resources & Research
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National Sleep Foundation: “Teens and Sleep,” “ABCs of ZZZZs — When you Can’t Sleep,” “2005 Adult Sleep Habits and Styles.”
NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: “Your Guide to Healthy Sleep.”
Anxiety Disorders Association of America: “Sleep Disorders.”
Allison T. Siebern, PhD,Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center, Redwood City, Calif.
Phil Gehrman, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and clinical director, Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
BBC News. How much can an extra hour’s sleep change you? October 9, 2013.
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