The Damaging Health Effects of a Lack of Sleep
By Amy Highland
Feeling sleep deprived? You probably are. A lack of sleep affects more than a third of American adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If you’re experiencing symptoms of sleep deprivation like chronic fatigue, struggling with concentration, and even feeling hungrier than usual, you may be suffering from a lack of sleep. And not getting enough sleep can put your mental and physical health at risk.
What Are The Signs of Sleep Deprivation?
When you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s pretty clear. Obviously, you’ll feel tired, overall fatigued, and may even doze off when you’re not expecting to do so. These are some of the signs you’re facing sleep deprivation:
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Impaired memory
- Impaired motor skills
- Feeling emotional
- Getting sick
What Happens When You’re Sleep Deprived?
Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. While we all skip a few hours here and there, a chronic sleep problem could profoundly affect your health, putting you at a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and mental health disorders. Some of the damaging health effects of a lack of sleep include:
- Increased risk of accidents, especially car accidents
- Increased risk of high blood pressure
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Overall increased risk of death
- Weight gain due to hormone imbalance
- Impaired balance and coordination
- Mood changes, which can lead to anxiety or depression
- Weakened immunity, which can make you more likely to catch viruses
- Trouble with long or short term memory
- Lowered sex drive due to a drop in testosterone levels
- Difficulty concentrating or solving problems
- Accelerated skin aging
- Accelerated brain aging
Overall, your health suffers when you don’t get enough sleep, making sleep deprivation a serious condition that warrants your attention — and action.
What You Can Do About Sleep Deprivation
Though sleep deprivation is common, it’s not a condition you can just accept and ignore. Like any serious condition, it requires treatment, which may include lifestyle changes and therapy.
These are some of the ways you can improve your sleep health and get the rest you need to be healthy:
Assess your sleep habits. Maintaining healthy sleep habits can help you practice good sleep hygiene. That includes doing things like creating a regular bedtime routine you go through each night, following a consistent sleep schedule that gives you enough time to sleep each night, and avoiding major sleep pitfalls. Some of the key sleep pitfalls to avoid include late night screen time, consuming caffeine too late in the day, or drinking alcohol before bed.
Get treatment for sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation could be caused by poor sleep habits, a demanding schedule, or even a sleep disorder. If you’re struggling to sleep on a regular basis, even when you’re giving yourself enough time to sleep, you might have a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea. Sleep disorders require treatment, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about how you’re struggling with sleep.
Be active during the day. Staying active during the daytime can help you sleep better at night and keep your circadian rhythm aligned well. Exposure to light — especially sunlight — can send a signal to your brain that it’s daytime and time to be alert, so you’ll be better prepared to get to sleep when it’s darker and an appropriate time for rest. If you struggle to get enough light exposure, or feel you need a little boost in this department, light therapy is an option and can help with circadian rhythm alignment.
Get relaxed before bed. Winding down before bed can help you doze off better. If you’re feeling anxious or just have a hard time transitioning to sleeping, try classic relaxation therapies such as meditation, yoga, or even aromatherapy and journaling, which can help you get in the right state of mind for relaxation and rest.
It’s normal to struggle with sleep now and then, but you should get help if you’re experiencing a serious lack of sleep that could affect your health, sometimes in permanently damaging ways. Consider improving your sleep hygiene and seeking out treatment for any sleep disorders that make it difficult to get the rest you need to be healthy.
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.