Think Sleepless Nights Are No Big Deal? Your Sleep Schedule Might Be Killing You Slowly
In the modern world, there are many forces conspiring against your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Computers, tablets, smartphones and other electronic devices can distract you from going to bed and interrupt your sleep patterns. The stress of work also frequently gets in the way of developing a healthy sleep schedule. Although you may think that fitful sleep is an inevitable part of your life and not such a big deal, there are actually huge negative consequences to your physical and mental health that come from lack of proper sleep. Even one day of bad sleep seriously impacts your well-being. The effects of chronic lack of sleep are even more dire.
What is Sleep Deprivation?
Medical experts are almost unanimous in saying that humans need at least seven hours of sleep a night. If you slept less than that last night, you are currently sleep deprived. Even if you set aside enough time for sleep every day, you may still feel effects of sleep deprivation if you have a condition that interrupts sleep. Common sleep disorders include restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.
The Effects of One Day Without Sleep
After one day without proper sleep, you may feel these physical and mental effects:
- Impaired or sluggish movements
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
A study in the journal Nature found that a single sleepless night is so debilitating that it leaves you in a state similar to someone with a .10 percent blood alcohol level, the level at which it is illegal to drive a car. Your risk of getting into accidents is heightened, and actively participating in activies at work and home becomes harder. The accident risk is no joke: last year, sleepy drivers cause 72,000 car accidents in America, resulting in 800 deaths.
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The Effects of Two or More Days Without Sleep
More than one sleepless day amplifies the problems discussed above, and introduces some new ones, including:
- Lessened Oxygen Intake
- Increased Heart Rate
- Paranoia, Psychosis or Hallucinations
As your body struggles to maintain the flow of oxygen to your muscles, your physical strength and endurance become seriously impaired. The longer you stay awake, the more your mental state deteriorates, until you have a hard time separating hallucinations and paranoia from reality. If you stay awake long enough, you can die from sleep deprivation.
The Effects of Chronic Sleep Deprivation
If you suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, that means you sleep every night, but you don’t sleep long enough or you have poor sleep quality. Although the effects of chronic sleep deprivation are not dramatic at first, in the long term poor sleep can lead to a variety of serious health problems. Some problems associated with chronic lack of sleep include:
- A weakened immune system
- Heart Disease
- Weight Gain
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Premature Aging
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Shortened Lifespan
Your body needs high quality sleep to restore antibodies and cytokines that are vital for fighting off illness. You will find that you get sick more easily if you have poor sleep habits. Research at Harvard has shown that sleep deprivation also causes your body to produce more of the appetite-stimulating chemical ghrelin and suppresses production of the hormone that tells your body to stop eating when it’s full. This puts you at an increased risk for obesity. Many of the health problems on the above list are associated with obesity. All of these health problems add up to an increased risk of premature death.
Conclusion: Good Sleep Can Save Your Life
Even if you think you can handle lack of sleep fine, and don’t notice mental or physical impairments yet, improper sleep is a risky business. By staying up that extra hour to watch another show or send more emails, you could be seriously impacting your long-term quality of life. You could even be taking years off your lifespan. I think we can all agree that whatever is keeping you up late isn’t worth that.