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The Consequences of Insufficient Sleep

The amount of sleep that people in America are getting each night has been a topic of increasing interest over the last several years, as more and more studies are revealing the myriad ways that sleep boosts our improvement and health and, conversely, the ways that not getting enough sleep can harm us.

Though individual studies speak loudly to whatever their specific focus is, what can be much more eye opening and startling is looking at a compilation of the results that the last few years have generated. Here is a list of over one dozen specific effects of being marginally or totally sleep deprived. Hopefully this will create the incentive you need to start hitting the sack earlier.

  1. Bad Mood

A team of Israeli researchers decided to investigate why people who were sleep deprived so commonly complained of “irritability and volatility.” Their study determined that not getting enough sleep resulted in a much stronger level of irritability when they were interrupted in the middle of doing something.

  1. Headaches

Though researchers are still uncertain as to why it happens, studies have clearly shown that headaches are related to lack of sleep. Many people who are prone to migraine find that sleepless nights are common triggers, and between just over a third and more than half of those who have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea report waking up in the morning with headaches.

  1. Learning Difficulties

There are a number of studies that have shown that lack of sleep impacts the ability to learn. Many middle and high school students standardized test scores improve significantly when students are allowed to delay their school day by an hour and get more sleep, and adults tested for short-term memory have shown themselves less able to learn and improve if they have been sleep deprived.

  1. Increased Appetite and Weight

It appears that lack of sleep creates a hormonal imbalance that tends to increase our appetite, and particularly our appetite for the foods that are highest in calories and fat. Sleep deprivation also has an impact on our impulse control, and combining the two is a recipe for disaster. Though its true that we burn more calories when we are awake then when we are asleep, it is not enough to make up for the extra calories that we take in when we’re tired.

 Vision Problems

Not many people realize this, but sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of vision problems, including tunnel vision, dimness and tunnel vision. Extended periods of sleeplessness can lead to hallucinations.

 Cardiovascular Issues

There have been a number of studies that have shown that people who are awake for extended periods of time can suffer serious and immediate health conditions, including increased blood pressure, but few realize that the danger exists for those who suffer sleep deprivation at a much lower intensity. The heart rate of patients who get four hours of sleep is much higher than those who get eight,  and the levels of C-reactive protein, a heart disease risk marker, goes up when people don’t get the sleep they need.

 Slower Reaction Times

Studies of college athletes as well as a study done on West Point cadets all reveal that sleep deprivation increases reaction time dramatically. This was true both in terms of physical response and the ability to make quick decisions.

 Risk of Infection

The body’s immune system is dramatically impeded by prolonged sleep deprivation, making it much more likely that you will get sick or be at risk for an infection in an open wound.

 Risk Taking Increases

Sleep deprivation can lead to impeded thinking when it comes to risk, which may explain why so many bad decisions are made after a long night in Las Vegas. Research has found that just one sleep-deprived night shifted strategic thinking to much more risky levels.

 Increased Need to Urinate

This little known byproduct of sleep deprivation is the explanation behind bed wetting in kids and in nocturia – an increased need to urinate in the middle of the night – in adults. When the body is functioning properly and getting enough sleep, urine production shuts down to allow for sleep. The slowdown doesn’t take place in people who aren’t getting the sleep they need, so urine production continues as during the day.

 Inability to Focus

Sleep deprivation seems to have a profound impact on the ability to focus, while getting a good night’s sleep allows you to stay attentive and on target. Researchers say that sleep deprivation creates “an unstable state that fluctuates within seconds and that cannot be characterized as either fully awake or asleep.”

 Impact on Vaccine Effectiveness

Though this effect appears to be specific to certain illness vaccines, there have been studies that have shown that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on the effectiveness of certain vaccines. Hepatitis A immunity levels were compromised following a sleepless night, though the flu vaccine did not seem to be effected.

 Mumbling and Slurring

People who are severely sleep deprived often sound as though they have been drinking alcohol in great quantities. They repeat themselves over and over, speak slowly and indistinctly and are “not able to properly express and verbalize their thoughts.”

 Vulnerable to Viruses

When your mom would tell you that if you got run down you’d catch a cold, she was right. Studies have clearly proven that those who get less than seven hours of sleep a night in a two week period are three times more likely to get sick than those who got eight or more hours of sleep. Sleep quality also matters.

Bowel Disorders

Though the reasons are not yet clear, those who suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease experience worse symptoms when they don’t get the sleep they need, and those who suffer from Crohn’s disease are more likely to relapse without proper sleep. For those who are not yet diagnosed, you are much more likely to develop these inflammatory conditions when you don’t get the sleep you need.

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