We’ve all had a night or two of poor sleep. Whether you were up all night finishing a paper or assignment for school or work, out partying with friends or just couldn’t sleep because of insomnia, it’s likely that you felt physically and mentally drained the next day. This is because sleep is absolutely crucial for our health and wellbeing.
However, many people don’t realize that the effects of poor sleep can add up over time and cause much more serious consequences for our health. These consequences can go beyond feeling tired and a little cranky the next day.
Why sleep is so important
There’s a reason that experts suggest we get at least eight hours of sleep each night. It’s because sleep is critical for our physical and mental health.
Sleep is when our bodies have time to recharge and heal. It is when the immune system best fights off invaders and also recharges to keep you healthy. It is also when the brain stores memories and creates new pathways to help you learn and focus the next day. And, sleep helps moderate levels of stress hormones, helping you destress.
Without sleep, you may start to feel sleepy during the day, stressed and unable to focus. Sleep deprivation is also known to cause changes in mood and increase irritability. However, sleep deprivation for a single day or week is much different than long-term or chronic sleep issues.
Long-term dangers of sleep deprivation
The potential dangers of chronic sleep deprivation escalate much more than just feeling irritable or experiencing brain fog. Getting poor sleep for long periods of time can actually cause serious health issues that could affect you for the rest of your life.
- Diabetes: Experts believe that a lack of sleep can contribute to an increased risk for diabetes. The reason for this is because a lack of deep sleep may alter the way the body responds to and processes glucose, eventually leading to type 2 diabetes.
- Obesity: Sleep helps you maintain a balance in the hormones that tell you that you’re hungry and full. Without adequate sleep, you may begin to feel hungrier than normal, leading to increased food intake. Paired with a change in how the body processes glucose, this can lead to an increased risk of weight gain and obesity.
- High blood pressure: Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can lead to high blood pressure over time. Because the body needs sleep to regulate inflammation and stress hormones, these things can start to affect the entire body if left unchecked.
- Heart disease: Heart attacks and strokes are more common if you suffer from long-term sleep deprivation because of the many ways sleep helps reduce your risk for heart disease. Stress and inflammation can play a role in this development, as well as interruptions in the circulatory system caused by a lack of sleep’s effects on the brain.
- Concentration dangers: It’s no surprise that getting too little sleep can make you feel foggy, unfocused and very sleepy throughout the day. Over time, these things continuously increase the risk of being in a dangerous accident due to a lack of attention. Drowsy driving is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents, but a lack of focus can contribute to many other kinds of accidents involving machinery or even walking into an unsafe situation.
- Mood disorders: While you may feel cranky after one or two nights of poor sleep, studies have actually linked long-term sleep deprivation to serious mood disorders and mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, both anxiety and depression are also known to cause insomnia, so sufferers can quickly become caught in a vicious cycle of poor sleep and poor mental wellness.
- Reduced libido: If you aren’t sleeping well, studies suggest that you probably aren’t very interested in having sex. Chronic sleep issues can cause reduced libido in both men and women, which can take its toll on your relationship and your self-esteem.
Chronic sleep deprivation can cause serious mental and physical damage, as well as decrease your quality of life overall. Because of this, you want to make sure you’re getting adequate sleep each and every night.
If you suffer from a sleep disorder like insomnia, try identifying the root of the issue and solving it. For example, try altering your sleep environment, taking melatonin or adjusting your sleep schedule.
If that doesn’t work, speak with your doctor or a sleep specialist to try to identify the problem with your sleep and come up with solutions so you can wake up well-rested every day and reduce your risk for life-long health problems.