Sleep is important for good health, but a third of people in the United States don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The required amount of sleep varies with age, according to the National Sleep Foundation. People who are 18 to 64 should sleep 7 to 9 hours each night, and children and teens should sleep even longer. Sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences.
Health Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation increases the risk of certain chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. The results of a 2010 study shows that people who sleep fewer than 5 hours a night had higher rates of high blood pressure, for example, while the results of another study shows that even a single bad night’s sleep can cause blood pressure to spike that night and the following day.
Research shows that getting inadequate sleep increases the risk of early death. Findings from a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that people with high blood pressure or diabetes, which are two of the main risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, are more than twice as likely to die from these cardiovascular events when they get fewer than 6 hours of sleep each night. Another study shows that sleep deprivation increases the risk of having a traffic accident.
A study shows that sleep deprivation can result in weight gain by causing changes to hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. In research by the University of Colorado, participants who slept only 5 hours per night for a week gained an average of 2 pounds.
Weakened immune system
There is a close link between the immune system and sleep, which means sleep deprivation can cause illness by weakening the immune system. During sleep, the human immune system releases cytokines, which are proteins that regulate the body’s response to immune responses, inflammation, and trauma. Sleep deprivation prevents the body from making enough cytokines to regulate these responses adequately, which means sleep deprivation makes the body susceptible to infections.
In one study, researchers tested blood samples from identical twins with different sleep patterns. They found that the twin who had shorter sleep duration had a more depressed immune system compared with the twin that slept longer.
Trouble with memory, thinking and concentration
Research shows sleep deprivation negatively affects cognitive performance, which means getting inadequate sleep can affect memory, attention, and reasoning. Other studies show sleep deprivation increases errors when performing tasks, and affects memory, even in midlife and later life.
People in their 50s and 60s who sleep poorly have more protein tangles in their brains, which put them at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Memory issues associated with sleep deprivation can be hard on kids too. The results of a 2015 study show that variations in sleep patterns caused children to experience memory fluctuations.
Low sex drive
In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers followed nearly 4,000 men and women in their early- to mid-60s for a year. The results showed an association between poor sleep and erectile dysfunction for men, and arousal problems and orgasmic difficulty in women. One study found a link between sleep deprivation and low testosterone in men, which can cause erectile dysfunction. Other research found a connection between poor sleep and female sexual dysfunction.
Sleep deprivation can cause poor balance stability, which can lead to falls and injuries. In a 2015 study of sleep deprivation in farmers, researchers found that the odds of having reduced balance stability were more than 7 times greater when the agricultural workers slept fewer hours than usual the night before the balance test.
Clearly, getting enough sleep is essential to good health and well-being. For more information on the negative effects of sleep deprivation, consult with a doctor or sleep specialist.
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