The Devastating Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Poor sleep does not only put you in a grumpy mode; you are also at risk of serious medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and stroke. Learn how to avoid sleep deprivation, and how to recover if you are already suffering from it.

The US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute defined sleep deprivation in simple terms: not getting enough sleep. However, the aftermath is far more complicated. Sleep, as vital to the health just as breathing and eating, often takes the backburner in today’s desire for staying awake.  

According to a survey reported by NDTV, 20% of the people in the world suffer from sleep deprivation. That means one out of 5 people – no matter what age, culture or lifestyle – lack the right amount sleep which their body requires. Curofy, a community of doctors from India, did this poll in order to raise awareness about sleep disorders for the World Sleep Day. In this experiment, more than 900 doctors took the poll. 182 responded they perform their tasks despite shortened sleeps.

In 2011, CBC called it a “global epidemic.” Sleep problems have affected up to 45% of the world's population, according to the World Association of Sleep Medicine. A large percentage of those who are sleep-deprived? Canadians. 60% of Canadian adults get 6.9 hours of sleep each night, as opposed to the much-recommended 8 hours. Men sleep 11 minutes less than women, but women still find it difficult falling asleep.

In the report, sleep deprivation shows similar signs to other impairments, such as:

  • A person who lacked sleep for 20 hours has the same level of impairment akin to someone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%
  • Sleep schedule from shift work disrupts the body's natural sleeping pattern and recovery, which can lead to physical and mental issues such as hypertension, depression, cardiovascular diseases and pulmonary diseases
  • Lack of sleep quality influences one's appetite and thus leads to weight gain

Study: sleep deprivation negatively affects your brain

In 2007, a team lead by Paula Alhola looked into the disorder's impact on cognitive performance. According to the research, prolonged wakefulness can be either a result of two things: a state called acute total sleep deprivation, or chronic partial sleep restriction. Partial sleep, the experts say, is more common in everyday life. The former, however, impairs the working memory and affects one's decision making. It could also influence one's focus.

On an average, sleep length must cover at least 7 hours per day. During this stretch, the body undergoes two sleeping processes: the homeostatic process S, and the circadian process C. The first depends on sleep and wakefulness; as wakefulness prevails, the need for sleep increases. On the other hand, the circadian process C suggests an innate pacemaker which affects the onset and offset of a sleeping period. These two processes determine the body's sleep and wake cycle.

Sleep is crucial to the body's energy conservation, tissue recovery, memory consolidation and thermoregulation. Loss of sleep, however, activates the body's sympathetic nervous system and this could lead to an increase of cortisol and the spiking of blood pressure. Prolonged sleep deprivation also affects the immune system and may also result to metabolic changes, such as insulin resistance.

People who suffer from short term sleep restriction may not process glucose as efficiently as those who slept for 8 hours; this is according to the American Sleep Association. In fact, they are more prone to Type 2 Diabetes. Other dangers related to sleep deprivation? Slower recovery from the wounds, and suppressed growth.

Back in 1999, a survey was used to prove that reduced cortisol secretion supresses growth hormones. Slow-wave sleep, a result of sleep deprivation, also weakens the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, which regulates stress reactions.

How do you know if you’re sleep deprived?

Let the signs tell you. Health.com lists down symptoms you are not getting enough sleep, and this includes:

  • Constant feeling of hunger. Poor sleep, according to the article, messes with the satiety hormone leptin, which nudges you to eat more of your cravings because you don't feel the signals to stop eating it.
  • Rapid gain weight. Increased appetite, especially of sugary and salty foods, will surely affect your waistline.
  • Slower metabolism. Lack of proper rest reduces your cell's response ability to insulin, which regulates your body's energy.
  • Tendency to be impulsive. As sleep deprivation affects your cognitive processing abilities, you may lean into reckless choices. It's not you; it's your lack of sleep.
  • Unsteady motor skills. Tripping down a few times a day? You might be having a hard time to focus where you're going. That's because sleep deprivation affects your neurological function in general.
  • Overreaction. Your heart is all worked up because not getting your Zzzs makes you feel too happy, too sad, too angry, or too anxious. If you're feeling too much, sleep it away.
  • Blurry vision. One of the adverse effects of fatigue is on your eyes. The ciliary muscle, which aids your visual focus, is much harder to control when you don't get enough snoozes. That’s the reason why you constantly get double vision.

Are you having these symptoms? Maybe it’s about time to pause for a while and get that health-rejuvenating nap. Don’t deprive your body with sleep; switch into your pyjamas and head back to bed. An eight-hour rest makes all the difference.

Jonas Diezun

Co-Founder at RADICE

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