The Health Impacts of Sleep Deprivation

The health benefits of sleep are well-documented. Getting to bed for an adequate amount of rest each night is critical to a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Adequate sleep is beneficial to heart health, can reduce stress, and aids in your body’s natural recovery process. Although each person is different and sleep needs vary slightly, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that all adults attempt to get at least seven hours of quality sleep each night.

Sleeping Toddler

Research shows that many adults do not get nearly the amount of rest they need. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as one in every three adults do not get enough sleep each night. This can create several issues for those affected. Even one less hour of quality sleep at night can leave a person feeling tired and cause noticeable differences in cognitive function, alertness, and energy.

Many people don’t view sleep as a vital step to maintaining their overall health. It can be difficult to manage daily obligations in order to get to bed at an appropriate time each night, and balancing the requirements of work, school, and family often causes people to neglect their sleep needs. But getting an adequate amount of rest is as important to a person’s health as hygiene, exercise, and proper nutrition.

Sleep deprivation can have numerous physical side effects. Those who do not get the recommended amount of rest each night are prone to high blood pressure as well as a higher risk of heart disease. A lack of sleep has also been linked to an increased risk of diabetes.

Hormonal changes linked to sleep deprivation may also cause weight gain and decreased thyroid function. In men, these hormone changes can lead to decreased testosterone, causing a decrease in libido. These hormonal changes may also cause stunted growth in children.

The negative health effects of sleep deprivation go beyond direct causes. Because sleep is necessary to the body’s natural recovery process, a deprived state leaves a person with decreased immune function, making them more susceptible to disease and infection.

Physical health is not the only thing affected by sleep deprivation. Cognitive functions, including memory, balance, and mood, are also negatively impacted. These reduced cognitive functions lead to decreased abilities at work and a stronger likelihood of accidents. Research shows that even a week of partial sleep deprivation can lead to an impairment in alertness and mood. Those who find themselves frequently tired are at a higher risk of anxiety and depression.

Sleep deprivation can also lead to dangerous practices behind the wheel. Operating a vehicle after being awake for an extended period of time has a similar impact on driving ability to being intoxicated. Being awake for 24 hours before driving can have an effect on alertness and ability comparable to having a 0.10% blood alcohol content, which is above the legal limit in all 50 states. In fact, a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers who sleep only five to six hours during a 24-hour period are twice as likely to be involved in an accident as a driver who gets seven hours or more. Drowsy driving is involved in as many as 21% of fatal crashes as well as 13% of all accidents that require hospitalization.

With all of the negative consequences associated with not getting enough sleep, it is crucial to develop practices for getting to bed at an appropriate hour. Experts recommended taking a few steps to help create better sleep practices. First, avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine can have lasting effects on sleep well after your last cup of coffee, so limiting it to the morning is a positive first step. Another recommendation is to only use the bedroom for sleep. Many people choose to eat, watch television, or otherwise spend time in the bedroom, but this can be detrimental to your ability to fall asleep there. Finally, develop a routine for falling asleep and waking up at the same time everyday. Establishing a pattern will naturally cause your body to sleep and wake on its own.

While it is easy to neglect sleep in order to follow a busy work schedule and accomplish all of the day’s obligations, sleep is of vital importance to maintain overall health and well-being. The negative consequences of sleep deprivation are numerous and can have lasting effects on a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

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Logan Block

Logan Block

Logan is the Director of Content at Sleepopolis and the main mattress man around these parts. A Buffalo native, Logan spent several years working in project management in both Boston and New York City. In his free time Logan likes walking his dog, lifting weights, and searching for the best cheeseburger in New York City.
Logan Block

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