Chronic sleep deprivation may seem like a normal part of adult life, but it may have a greater impact on our health than we realize. Researchers are finding that sleep deprivation can do far more than affect our concentration and work performance. Over the long-term, not getting enough sleep can lead to a number of health conditions, and it might even shorten our lives.
Between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from some kind of chronic sleep condition. There are about 90 disorders that affect sleep, but most involve difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, extreme daytime sleepiness, or sensations or movements in bed that disrupt normal sleep. Adults chronically deprived of sleep are at higher risk for anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse.
Your Brain on Sleep Deprivation
The brain can’t function without sleep, and the cognitive effects of deprivation can appear after just one sleepless night. After going just 17-19 hours without sleep, for example, participants in one study performed worse in tests than those with blood alcohol content (BAC) levels measuring .05%. After 28 hours without sleep, those same people performed similarly to people with BAC levels measuring .1% percent.
Short-term sleep deprivation can have other effects on the nervous system, causing metabolic changes, increased stress response, mood disorders, memory problems, and increased pain and inflammation.
Your Body on Sleep Deprivation
Over time, sleep deprivation can cause even more profound repercussions on the body. Longstanding metabolic effects can lead to hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Other related issues may contribute to gastrointestinal disorders, raised cholesterol levels, increased risk of heart attack or stroke, and even a raised risk of colorectal cancer.
Reclaim Your Sleep
Researchers consider someone sleep deprived if they get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. To reduce the effects of sleeplessness on our health we can try light therapy and melatonin to regulate our sleep, and aim for a solid 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Someone experiencing certain sleep conditions might want to talk to their doctor about treatment options.