10 Harmful Health Concerns of Sleep Deprivation

10 Harmful Health Concerns of Sleep Deprivation...

10 Harmful Health Concerns of Sleep Deprivation

Loretta Lanphier, NP, CN, CH, HHP

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If you have a habit of skimping on sleep, you may actually be causing long-term concerns in virtually every aspect of your health. In the United States, 50-70 million adults experience sleep deprivation. 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. It is your body’s circadian rhythm which is your sleep-wake cycle that actually propels the rhythms of biological activity at the cellular level. One of the 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.

1. Sleep deprivation heightens your risk for many diseases. Lack of sleep can put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, some cancers and diabetes.

2. Sleep deprivation lessens 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.

3. 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.

4. Sleep deprivation can make you look older. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol can break down skin collagen which is the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic. Sleep loss also causes the body to release too little human growth hormone. When we’re young, human growth hormone promotes growth. As we age, it 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.”

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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. 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.

8. Sleep deprivation affects your immune system. We know that the body does the most healing and repair work during sleep. When you’re sleeping, your immune system produces protective cytokines and 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 sleep deprived, it means your immune system doesn’t have the time needed to build up its forces. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that if you don’t get enough sleep, it’s more likely that your body won’t be able to fend off invaders.

9. 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 the 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.

10. 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.

As you can see, adequate sleep is absolute necessary for good health. I find it interesting 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 a good night’s rest. One study suggests that sleeping, even for an extra hour, if you're getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, 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 of many health concerns. Since your body does the most healing and repair work during sleep, I highly believe that sleep habits must be addressed and corrected in order to head-off future disease and health concerns.

Resources & Research

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Vol. 342 no. 6156 pp. 373-377 DOI: 10.1126/science.1241224
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Harvard Medical School: “Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety,” “Sleep, Learning, and Memory,” “Sleep and Mood.”
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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