Struggling to fall asleep is one of the top health problems of the modern age. Many are unable to fall asleep, either because of too much screen time or the stress of the previous day. What many don’t know, however, is that lack of sleep can lead to more than grumpiness and irritability. Failing to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night can have long-lasting and serious effects on your health. Sleep deprivation can affect you both mentally and physically, causing problems ranging from weight gain to a weakened immune system.
Causes of Sleep Deprivation
Generally, sleep deprivation usually occurs when someone isn’t getting consistent sleep or they’re sleeping irregular hours. Quality of sleep can affect how much sleep you get per night too. Sleep is as important to your body as food or water, or oxygen; your body needs it to function and serious health risks arise when you don’t get enough. A meta-review of studies from 2010 showed that receiving too little sleep per night over a long period of time can actually increase chances for early death. Signs of sleep deprivation include excessive sleepiness, frequent yawning, irritability, and daytime fatigue. On top of general symptoms, sleep deprivation effects specific systems in your body, such as:
The Central Nervous System
The central nervous system is the most important, intricate system in your body. It receives millions of electronic pulses per day and coordinates your body as a whole in tandem with your brain. Sleep is essential to the healthy function of your nervous system, but chronic insomnia can drastically alter how your body processes and sends information. Your brain needs rest to form new connections between neurons and allow you to concentrate and learn new skills. Lack of sleep can also decrease coordination and may lead to serious accidents at work and on the road. Finally, your mental health could be severely affected, as those with sleep deprivation have developed impulsive behavior, anxiety, and depression.
The Immune System
During sleep, your immune system produces antibodies and cytokines. These substances protect your body and fight infections and foreign invaders. Cytokines also help you sleep, giving your body more time to fight, but sleep deprivation interrupts this process, leading to a higher likelihood of sickness and serious illnesses. Sleep deprivation which is prevalent over a long period of time can also lead to chronic illnesses such as diabetes mellitus and heart disease.
The Respiratory System
Unlike other bodily systems, your respiratory system can interrupt your sleep. There are breathing disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea which can prevent good quality sleep and possibly wake you up at certain points during the night. The more times you wake throughout the night, the lower your quality of sleep and the higher chance your sleep deprivation will repeat itself in a vicious cycle. Waking up can also lead to respiratory infections like the common cold and the flu, which could make existing illnesses such as chronic lung illness worse.
The Digestive System
Overeating and not exercising are not the only ways to gain weight and invite obesity. Sleep deprivation is a serious risk factor for obesity; this is because sleep levels are directly tied to the effectiveness and production of two hormones, leptin, and ghrelin, which are responsible for regulating feelings of hunger and fullness. Leptin notifies your brain when you’ve eaten enough food in one setting and ghrelin is an appetite stimulant. Lack of sleep can also leave you feeling too tired to exercise which, over time, will lead to weight gain and unhealthy habits over the course of your life.
The Cardiovascular System
Sleep is directly tied to many healthy processes that keep your heart and blood pumping regularly. Blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and inflammation are all factors that could be negatively affected when you aren’t receiving enough sleep each night. Your body is also less prone to repair your blood vessels and heart after serious damage without enough sleep. Those who don’t receive enough sleep each night have been linked to cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke.
The Endocrine System
Finally, there’s an oft-ignored system in your body that regulates many important functions and produces hormones for a variety of tasks. The endocrine system is among the most severely affected when you don’t sleep as often as necessary. Testosterone and growth hormone production are both interrupted, especially in children and adolescents. These hormones help your body, both men and women, build muscle mass and repair cells and tissues, in addition to other growth functions. Waking up consistently throughout the night interrupts R.E.M. sleep, which interrupts the production of both of these hormones.
Treatment and Prevention
The best way to avoid sleep deprivation is to ensure you’re receiving an adequate amount of sleep each night, anywhere from seven to nine hours. If you have more severe symptoms, be sure to see a health specialist who can diagnose and treat certain sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia. Medication and therapy are available to treat sleep disorders, though extensive research is being conducted every day to improve treatment. To prevent sleep deprivation, make sure to limit or avoid daytime naps, avoid caffeine late in the day, set up a regular sleep schedule which you strictly adhere to, don’t eat heavy meals before bedtime, and refrain from using electronic devices late at night.
Sleep deprivation should be avoided at all costs, as it affects many of your body’s systems and can lead to serious health risks. Staying true to preventative measures is a great way to avoid deprivation and its ill effects on your health.