What Medical Risks Are Associated with Low Quality or Lack of Sleep

Sleep is a biologic process that is essential for life and optimal health. Sleep plays a critical role in brain function and systemic physiology, including metabolism, appetite regulation, and the functioning of immune, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems.


Loss of sleep is a common problem these days. It affects a lot of individuals at some point in their lives. People vary in how much sleep they need and there is not a set amount of sleep to be considered sleep-deprived. Some people such as older adults seem to be more resistant to the effects of sleep deprivation, while others, especially children and young adults, are more vulnerable.


Although casual sleep disruptions are generally no more than an annoyance, ongoing lack of sleep can lead to excessive daytime drowsiness, emotional difficulties, poor job performance, obesity, and a lowered perception of quality of life. Overall, low quality sleep or no sleep at all shortens your life expectancy.


How much sleep do we need?

Normal healthy sleep is characterized by sufficient duration, good quality, appropriate

timing and regularity, and the absence of sleep disturbances and disorders.


Most of us need around eight hours of good quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less. What matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it. As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a chance to have a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep.


A variety of factors can cause poor sleep, including health conditions such as sleep apnea. But in most cases, it’s a matter of bad sleeping habits.


What happens to your body and mind when you don’t sleep?

Everyone has experienced the fatigue, short temper and lack of focus that often follow a poor night’s sleep. An occasional night without sleep makes you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health.


After several sleepless nights, the mental effects become more serious. Your brain will cloud, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You’ll start to feel down, and will start to lose your ability to form new memories. Your risk of injury and accidents at home, work and on the road increases.

If it continues, lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.


What are the medical risks associated with low quality sleep/lack of sleep?

Immunity –  Sleep boosts immunity, so if you seem to catch every cold and flu that’s going around, your bedtime could be to blame. Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, so you’re less able to fend off bugs.


Weight – Sleeping less can make you weigh more! Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day are more likely to be obese than those who get nine hours of sleep or more. It’s believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin, the chemical that makes you feel full and increased levels of ghrelin, the hunger-stimulating hormone.


Mental well-being – Given that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day, it’s not surprising that chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety. When people with anxiety or depression were surveyed to calculate their sleeping habits, it turned out that most of them slept for less than six hours a night.


Diabetes – It seems that missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by changing the way the body processes glucose, the high-energy carbohydrate that cells use for fuel.


Sex drive and fertility – Men and women who don’t get enough quality sleep have lower libidos and less of an interest in having sex. Men who suffer from sleep apnea – a disorder in which breathing difficulties lead to interrupted sleep – also tend to have lower testosterone levels, which can lower libido. Difficulty conceiving a baby has been claimed as one of the effects of sleep deprivation – in both men and women. Apparently, regular sleep disruptions can impair fertility by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones.


Heart – Sleep wards off heart disease. Long-standing sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.


Risk factors contributing to sleep deprivation and disruption

Risk factors for sleep disruption are vast and involve a combination of biologic, psychologic, genetic, and social factors.


Lifestyle factors include consuming excessive amounts of caffeine and drinking alcohol. Performing shift work or being a college student is also a risk factor for sleep disruption. Exposure to excessive nighttime light pollution and underexposure to daytime sunlight can lead to disruption of circadian rhythms.


Stressful life circumstances, such as being the parent of a young infant or serving as a caregiver for a family member with a chronic, life-threatening, or terminal illness, are also contributors to sleep problems.


In addition to the stress and worry associated with caregiving, caregivers of patients with complex medication schedules may experience sleep disruption due to the requirement to wake themselves during the night to administer medication.


How to catch up on lost sleep

If you don’t get enough sleep, there’s only one way to compensate – getting more sleep.

It won’t happen with a single early night. If you’ve had months of restricted sleep, you’ll have built up a significant sleep debt, so expect recovery to take several weeks.


Starting on a weekend, try to tack on an extra hour or two of sleep a night. The way to do this is to go to bed when you’re tired and allow your body to wake you in the morning.


Expect to sleep for upwards of 10 hours a night, at first. After a while, the amount of time you sleep will gradually decrease to a normal level.


Find the mattress that best suits your needs and will prove to be the most comfortable. There are a lot of people who can’t get enough sleep because of their mattress, their pillows, or any number of factors.


Don’t rely on caffeine or energy drinks as a short-term pick-me-up. They may boost your energy and concentration temporarily but can disrupt your sleep patterns even further in the long term.


And, for the end, here are some terrifying facts on sleep deprivation
  • When you fail to get your required amount of sufficient sleep, you start to accumulate a sleep debt. This cumulates and makes all the other side-effects more likely and more intense.
  • Sleep loss alters the normal functioning of attention and disrupts the ability to focus on environmental sensory input, meaning you underperform at work and have trouble with memory.
  • Lack of sleep has been implicated as playing a significant role in tragic accidents involving airplanes, ships, trains, automobiles, and nuclear power plants.
  • Children and young adults are most vulnerable to the negative effects of sleep deprivation.
  • Sleep deprivation can be a symptom of an undiagnosed sleep disorder or other medical problem.


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