In the modern age, people tend to care less and less for their sleeping habits. Everyone is so preoccupied with work and other obligations that sleeping through the night became a privilege. But while asleep, the body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Most people feel some consequences when they lack sleep but never think about the long term effects of sleep deprivation.
From a scientific standpoint, it’s still not quite clear why human bodies depend on sleep so much. However, one thing is certain — the long-term effects of sleep deprivation are both physical and psychological, and they can be quite serious.
During experimental research on the topic of sleep deprivation, for example, scientists came to a fatal conclusion. On lab animals, long-term sleep deprivation has even caused death! So, what can it do to our bodies then?
Types of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation occurs for a number of reasons. It’s not an illness itself, but rather a condition that can be caused by illnesses, amongst other things.
The reasons for sleep deprivation are:
• Sleeping disorders: Sleeping disorders are widespread. Insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy are the most well-known ones.
• Illnesses: Some serious illnesses are known to cause sleep deprivation. Some of these are schizophrenia, depression, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
• Aging: People older than 65 often have trouble sleeping due to aging, medication, or medical conditions.
• Other factors: Many people don’t experience the aforementioned reasons, but these hit close to home. There are various other factors that can cause sleep deprivation. The most widespread ones are stress, work, changes in already busy schedules, and even babies.
How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Your Life?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. The recommended sleeping time is from 7 to 9 hours a day. Everything less than that is insufficient for the body to successfully recover and rest.
The Department of Neurology at Columbia University listed the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Some of the symptoms are drowsiness, lack of concentration, and feeling weak during the day.
However, it’s not just the body that is suffering in these conditions. The quality of life is another victim of sleep deprivation because it can affect your work, driving, and social life.
These weaker symptoms can turn into much more serious long-term ones if you don’t treat sleep deprivation.
7 Long-Term Effects of Sleep Deprivation
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine divides the long-term effects of sleep deprivation into three major categories.
Regarding the aspect of life they affect, the categories are:
Amongst these three categories, these are the 7 most serious effects that everyone needs to be aware of.
1. Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
When the body doesn’t get enough sleep, there is a chemical reaction that causes glucose to process much slower. The crucial part of this process is insulin, a hormone that allows cells to absorb and use glucose.
Due to sleep deprivation, too much glucose builds up in the blood and the cells can’t absorb or use it for energy. This causes insulin resistance, which then severely increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
2. Brain Function and Central Nervous System
The brain is one of the biggest victims of sleep deprivation. Some of these consequences take a while to develop. The brain, however, reacts instantly with decreases in activity and function.
This is noticeable in alertness, decision making, and overall responsiveness to things happening around us. Additionally, concentrating and learning new things becomes especially hard when you are sleep deprived. The signals that the brain sends to different body parts get delayed, which decreases coordination.
3. Heart Disease
Scientists believe that sleep deficiency affects the part of the brain which controls circulation. Therefore, when you don’t get enough sleep, blood vessels and the heart have a hard time repairing and there is a high risk of inflammation.
Inflammation causes blood clots, which can block the flow of blood in blood vessels. As a result, a sleep-deprived person is at a much higher risk of a heart attack or a stroke.
4. Memory and Attention Loss
There have been numerous studies on the effects of sleep deprivation on memory and attention. When talking about the person’s quality of life, memory, and attention loss makes people forget even the most mundane and routine actions.
Additionally, the attention span and ability to memorize certain information correlates to the amount of sleep you get each night. This is why, for example, it’s extremely dangerous to drive when you didn’t get enough sleep.
Scientifically speaking, memory and attention depend on the same part of the human brain — the frontal lobes. They are sensitive to sleep deprivation and cannot function properly in those circumstances. Therefore, sleep deprivation directly causes memory and attention impairment.
5. Weight Gain and Obesity
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health have found a direct link between sleep deprivation and gaining weight. Not getting enough sleep significantly increases the risk of obesity in both children and adults.
Two hormones are crucial to this process: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is a chemical that makes you feel full, and ghrelin is a chemical that stimulates the feeling of hunger.
In sleep-deprived people, there is a chemical reaction that causes hormonal disbalance, resulting in greatly increased production of ghrelin. Simultaneously, leptin is underproduced, which leads to an overwhelming feeling of hunger.
6. Depression and Anxiety
Although nobody feels good after a sleepless night, the long-term effects of sleep deprivation can be more serious mental health issues. Some of the symptoms are mood swings and impatience, which can further develop into anxiety.
People can become sensitive even to the mildest stressors and can have severe panic attacks and anxiety as a direct effect of sleep deprivation.
Moreover, lack of sleep causes lower levels of the hormone melatonin, and the same can be seen in people who suffer from depression. Additionally, sleep deprivation causes a lack of motivation, which is one of the main symptoms of depression.
7. Endocrine System and Fertility
Hormones are necessary for our bodies to function normally. Although hormone production is heavily dependent on your sleep, some hormones are more affected by sleep deprivation than others. Interruption of sleep can affect hormone production negatively, which can be devastating for children (growth hormone) and adults (fertility).
Growth hormones are suppressed, which affects the ability to build muscle mass and repair cells and tissues. Moreover, difficulty conceiving a baby is directly linked to a lack of sleep in adults. Both men and women are affected, and the cause is reduced secretion of reproductive hormones.