You might think that missing a few hours of sleep here or there won’t have any long-term negative effects. But sleep deprivation can have far more sinister impacts on our bodies other than just feeling a little more fatigued the next day.
For Canadians, more than half of all adults find it difficult to sleep consistently throughout the night. Hectic work, family and social lives often mean that we put healthy sleep schedules on the back burner.
All adults should be getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Anything below this can be considered as sleep deprivation. Yet, exactly how harmful is prolonged lack of sleep on our minds and body?
We need sleep just as much as we need food for nourishment and air to breathe. During sleep, our body carries out important tasks such as healing itself and restoring chemical balance. Without the ability to do this, it severely impacts our physical and cognitive functioning.
Have you ever had a deadline at work that required you to stay in the office until late at night multiple days in a row? The likelihood is that you have. It’s also likely that you weren’t getting enough sleep and were feeling more groggy than usual. But you put up with it to get the work done.
Although it might only have been 5 hours of missed sleep spread out over a week, gaining those valuable hours back isn’t as simple as sleeping in late Saturday morning. In fact, you’ll probably notice that it actually takes a few days before you’re back to your normal self.
Sound familiar? Now imagine that’s happening on a constant basis. With every hour of lost sleep, your mind and body become less capable to function at its best. You lack focus, have lower energy levels and may even become sick more often.
Now that you know being sleep deprived is more than just feeling extra tired, let’s look at the common lack of sleep side effects we need to be keeping an eye on.
Hypertension is very common among people who are suffering from sleep deprivation. During deep sleep, our body produces its own form of blood pressure medication. Our heart drops and our blood pressure lowers, allowing the cardiovascular system to reboot itself.
In people who are sleep deprived, this process doesn’t happen so they are more likely to experience increased blood pressure. This, over time, can lead to cardiovascular disease.
Poor sleep isn’t the only factor in weight gain but it can lend a helping hand. Certain studies have found that even a week of sleeping 5 hours or less can cause us to gain at least 2 pounds. That’s because lack of sleep wreaks havoc with hormones that regulate hunger and appetite.
The hormone ghrelin increases making us feel more hungry. It also impacts what we want to eat and makes us crave more sugary, fatty foods.
Sleep puts our minds into a restorative state and helps us to regulate stress levels. When this sleep gets disturbed it can heavily impact our mood, outlook on life and our emotions.
Depression and other mental health conditions such as anxiety are very common among people who are sleep deprived. Chronic lack of sleep alters our ability to control our emotions and can lead us to become more irritable, withdrawn and unhappy.
Additionally, these conditions make it more difficult for us to sleep at night adding to continued loss of sleep.
Not only does sleep deprivation affect emotions but also how the brain functions. Excessive tiredness has been known to decrease performance levels, memory retention and impair judgement.
When we are tired, our concentration levels are lower. We are less alert and engaged with what is happening around us. Our ability to carry out tasks that require complex thought is hampered impacting our work performance.
Making decisions is also more difficult as our judgement is impaired. Situations are harder to assess and our ability to “think on our feet” is next to non-existent leading to an increase in accidents and injury, especially when it comes to driving.
Do you often forget things that you’re sure you know? Our ability to retain new memories is possible only when we receive adequate sleep. Without this, our brains are incapable of forming new pathways between nerve cells to retain any new information that we have learned.
That’s why it’s much easier to forget our house keys when we’re tired.
Not surprisingly, our sex drives are affected by sleep deprivation. But did you know that fertility is too?
Like sleep, fertility is a complicated process. The part of the brain that regulates our sleep-wake hormones also triggers our daily release of reproductive hormones.
Lack of sleep disrupts these hormones and can make it harder for both men and women to reproduce. This is because testosterone levels tend to decrease with poor sleep quality along with physical sexual desire.
For many of us, lack of sleep happens purely from our minds being too active at night. Maybe we are too stressed out from our demanding jobs or we have a 5 pm coffee habit that we just can’t seem to kick.
There are many everyday stresses and activities that can make it harder for us to sleep at night. But there are also chronic illnesses that prevent us too. It is these that we need to be worried about.
Sleep disorders such as insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea and narcolepsy are all medical conditions that lead to poor sleep quality. Many people who experience chronic sleep distribution are often diagnosed with one of these disorders.
If you can’t pinpoint a particular reason for why you are feeling drowsy on a consistent basis, it may be worth getting assessed by a sleep specialist. A specialist will be able to determine what’s causing lack of sleep. Or, at least provide some insight or solution to a better quality of sleep.
It is possible to train your body to get back on a healthy sleep schedule. This can be done by making necessary lifestyle changes. Here are some natural and relaxing activities that you can try to wind down before going to bed each night:
If you feel that the cause of your sleep deprivation is something more serious, the most effective plan of action is to get a consultation from a sleep specialist. They will determine whether you need a positive airway pressure machine to assist you while sleeping.
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