What are the consequences of lack of sleep, and the dangers?
We all probably wish we could get more sleep, but the demands of life seem to keep pushing back the hours in which we have the opportunity to do that. And even when we get into bed, chances are that most of us stare into our smartphones deep into the night.
We wake up grumpy, exhausted, and dreading the day ahead. It’s not just how the lack of sleep makes us feel, it’s the fact that lack of sleep can have detrimental long-term effects on your health – which can even lead to deadly health conditions.
Dangers and Side Effects of Lack of Sleep
Lack of sleep consequences are manifold. Below we discuss how a lack of sleep affects the brain and the body. We will list the reasons why you should make sleep a priority, and how you can get yourself back on track to pay back your sleep debt.
Lack of sleep makes you fat and ugly
Studies prove that if you sleep less than seven hours a night you increase your risk of becoming obese. The theory is that sleep-deprived people have higher levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone called “ghrelin” and diminished levels of the chemical that makes you feel full called “leptin”.
Sleep loss also causes you to release too much of the stress hormone cortisol, which will break down essential skin collagen causing your skin to become dry and wrinkly.
Your brain also isn’t given the opportunity to release enough growth hormone to encourage new cell growth. This can lead to chronic dark circles under your eyes and lackluster skin.
There is a reason why it is called beauty sleep!
Lack of sleep makes you stupid
If you don’t experience the correct amount of sleep cycles during the night, your brain cannot adequately process the information from the previous day. It is like you if you never cleaned your house: there would be garbage mixed up with the essential things you need to remember.
The next day you will try to accumulate new knowledge, remain alert and solve problems with reason – but you will feel too cluttered for your cognitive processes to function normally.
Lack of sleep can make you mentally ill
It has been suggested that a chronic sleep-debt can be the culprit for many sufferers of anxiety and depression. People with these mental disorders were studied and it was revealed that they slept well under the recommended seven to eight hours per night.
Considering that sleepless nights make people moody and irritable, over the long-term, this can become a habitual negative lifestyle that colors your entire worldview.
Lack of sleep lowers your sex drive and causes infertility
Men who don’t get enough sleep can end up with lower levels of testosterone, which decreases their sex drive. Also, the general exhaustion of having a sleep-debt leaves one with no energy to take part in bedroom gymnastics!
This can make matters worse if a couple is trying to conceive, as lack of sleep also lowers the secretion of reproductive hormones.
Lack of sleep can make you sick
If you are prone to flu and catching colds, this could be directly correlated with your bad sleep habits. Your immune system becomes disrupted when you don’t get adequate hours of shut-eye, so your body is incapable of warding off viruses and bugs.
Lack of sleep could even be deadly!
One of the most frightening outcomes of not getting enough sleep is that you can develop potentially deadly diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and even heart attack!
Research has shown that when people with insomnia are studied, it is estimated that 90% of them experience one of the above conditions.
The deadliest risk of all from lack of sleep are the accidents that result. Fatigue is considered the cause of around 100000 car crashes per year – over a thousand of those are deadly.
But even worse, sleep deprivation has been the catalyst of major disasters such as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident.
How much sleep do we need?
In a joint study run by both the Washington State University and the University of Pennsylvania, 48 healthy people, who habitually already slept up to 8 hours per night, were split into four groups.
12 people had to stay awake for 3 days running. The next 12 were permitted 4 hours of sleep per night, the following 12 could sleep 6 hours. The final 12 were asked to sleep 8 hours per night.
After being tested on their physical and mental wellbeing, it was found that in both of those areas, people who slept less than 8 hours started to gradually decline in their performance.
What was frighteningly notable, was that the participants who didn’t get 8 hours sleep, didn’t even notice that their physical and mental performance was declining. And the sleep debt they had accumulated caused them to nod off randomly throughout the day.
This calculates to mean that if you spent 2 weeks of only getting 6 hours sleep a night, your mental and physical well-being would decline to the level of someone who had stayed awake nonstop for 48 hours!
How effective sleep works
Effective sleep depends upon the amount of full sleep-wake cycles you have in succession, throughout the night. Sleep-cycles consist of firstly Slow-wave sleep (deep sleep) and secondly REM sleep (rapid eye movement).
The first part, slow-wave, is most critical for your physical health. This is when your immune system is believed to heal itself. Your pituitary gland releases growth hormones that encourage muscle growth and tissue repair.
The second part, REM sleep, is most critical for your mental health. This is when your brain does it’s cleaning and organizing. You dream, and all the information you gathered throughout the day is either discarded as irrelevant or utilized to facilitate neural growth and boost memory.
How to catch up on lost sleep
Your body will not only plead with you to pay back your sleep debt, it actually will just outright seize back what it is owed. Usually, after a night in which you didn’t get enough hours sleep, your body will automatically sleep those missed hours the next night, in addition to the regular hours it needs. This is because your sleep cycles have a lot more cleaning up to do.
How to fall asleep when it seems impossible
1. Reduce Caffeine
You will need to prepare for sleep by what you choose to do the day before. If you struggle with insomnia, it could be because of excessive caffeine. If you can’t live without coffee, give yourself a rule to not drink any beyond 12 noon. This way, the caffeine should be out of your system by bedtime. If you need a warm drink before bed, try chamomile tea instead.
2. Sleep Routine
Like all things in life, having a routine is the way to achieve any goal – the same applies to sleep. After a day of eating healthy and getting adequate exercise, make a daily appointment in your diary to go to sleep. The time you go to bed should be just as important as the time you are obliged to arrive at the office each day!
3. Sleep Sanctuary
According to your circadian rhythm, your body starts to be ready for sleep at approximately 9 pm, when melatonin production increases in your brain. It is at this time that you should start to create an atmosphere that will encourage imminent sleep.
Turn off bright lights at this point, and avoid staring into flashing screens. Also, make sure your bedroom is a simple sleep sanctuary, don’t allow electronics or clutter to share this room with you, and keep the room at a moderate 20C.
4. Relaxation Techniques
If you struggle with anxious thoughts that keep you awake, utilizing a relaxation technique is usually all it will take to help you drop off. Practice deep breathing and gradual muscle relaxation, and before you know it you will be in the land of sweet dreams!
We live in a productivity-obsessed society, and the irony is that we think that less sleep will give us more time to be productive. But we need to re-think this myth. Just imagine how much more money could be generated, and how many more improvements to the world would take place if humanity was functioning on the correct amount of sleep!