Chronic sleep deprivation, getting insufficient sleep for an extended period of time, has been associated with a slew of health issues, ranging from cardiovascular disease to metabolic syndrome. If that’s not bad enough, some chronic conditions can turn poor sleep quality into a deadly threat. Are you at risk?
Sleep deprivation can take a toll on the body. For those who are healthy, it can increase the odds of becoming overweight and developing heart disease, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. For those who already suffer from a related chronic condition, insomnia can increase the chances of dying from it. Sufferers are also at an increased risk of cancer. Let's look a little deeper at these and other risks.
Sleep is essential for proper brain and body function. Without enough of it, mood, memory, work performance and pain tolerance can plummet. And the risk of inflammation goes up along with concentration challenges and chronic stress. And that’s just the short-term consequences.
Chronic sleep deprivation can turn a healthy person into an unhealthy mess, putting them at an increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome. They’re also more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders and colorectal cancer. The effects of sleep deprivation are so profound they increase the sufferer’s risk of death overall.
These effects may be even greater for those who already suffer from a chronic condition. A recent study showed that people at risk for stroke and/or cardiac events are more likely to die if they’re not sleeping well. Their cancer risk is also increased. This may have to do with the metabolic effects of sleep deprivation on the body. Researchers advise insomniacs to take measures to improve their sleep—especially if they also have high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease or have had a stroke.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends establishing a regular schedule to improve sleep hygiene. Start by going to bed at the same time each night and setting an alarm to go off at the same time every morning. Don’t sleep in on weekends and don’t succumb to the urge to take naps during the day.
Still having trouble? Be sure to get regular exercise and avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine too close to bedtime. It’s also important to make sure that beds and bedrooms are sufficiently comfortable. Find activities to do before bed to slow the body down, such as mindfulness meditation. Herbs like chamomile and kava may also be helpful, but be sure to talk to a doctor before beginning any new herbal regimen in case of side-effects or drug interactions.
Sleep deprivation is dangerous enough on its own, but the consequences can be deadly for people with underlying health issues. Don’t play the odds. Get into a good sleep routine if you don’t already have one, and address any continued insomnia with a doctor. It could be a matter of life and death.