Why Sleep Deprivation Can Sabotage Your Health
Despite the common wisdom that sleep is important for overall health and wellness, in our over-scheduled, non-stop modern lives, we often trade precious sleep for other endeavors, like social media scrolling, mindless television, or completing your to-do list.
Without adequate sleep though, nearly every aspect of waking life becomes more effortful, labored, and emotionally less fulfilling (1). In today’s article, we’re going to review the effects of insufficient sleep and explore how sleep deprivation may be sabotaging your health.
For years, I was a sleep-deprived mom. Kids needed attention in the middle of the night and it felt like getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep was a luxury. My weight continued to creep up and my health issues also mounted up exponentially. Can you relate? In fact, my poor husband had a car accident after the birth of one of our babies because he was so sleep deprived!
Today, if I have a bad night of sleep I definitely struggle to function at a high level during the day. Sleep is so important to our health! Don’t ignore this imperative aspect of your health journey.
What is adequate sleep?
Proper rest is as important to our health as eating, drinking, and breathing (2). When we sleep, the brain and body slow down and engage in processes of recovery, promoting better physical and mental performance the next day and over the long term (3).
While each person will differ in the exact amount of sleep needed for replenishment, the National Sleep Foundation guidelines advise that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
So, if you’re consistently sleeping less than 7 hours per night, you wake feeling sleepy and physically drained, your mood is noticeably flattened, and your thinking feels sluggish and unfocused — you’re deprived of sufficient sleep (4).
How does sleep deprivation sabotage your health?
The symptoms of sleep deprivation are wide-reaching and they affect all aspects of your health.
Clinical symptoms include longer reaction times, distractedness, disturbances in attention and concentration, forgetting known facts, difficulty in memorizing new information, and making mistakes and omissions (5).
Higher levels of stress are observed in sleep-deprived individuals, leading to increased tiredness, drowsiness, and irritability. Work effectiveness decreases and motivation usually falls. Reasoning slows down not only during the night of sleep deprivation but also on the following day (6).
Sleep deprivation may also play a role in the increased prevalence of diabetes and/or obesity. A 2007 sleep medicine study explored the relationship between sleep restriction, weight gain, and diabetes, showing that consistent lack of sleep leads to impaired glucose metabolism, increased appetite, and decreased energy expenditure (7).
Improving your sleep hygiene
As you can see, prioritizing sleep is incredibly important for your body to function optimally. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, this is your sign to improve your sleep hygiene.
You can begin improving your sleep hygiene by focusing on consistent sleep and wake times (e.g. in bed every night by 10:30 pm and waking by 6:30 am). Ensure you’re sleeping in a cool, dark room and avoid blue light 1 hour before bed (i.e. no phone, tv, computer, or tablet). Listening to calming music, brown noise, or a meditation will further help you create a calming sleep sanctuary.
If you’re in a season of life right now where consistently obtaining an average of 8 hours of sleep is impossible, don’t fret. Know that there will come a time when you can appropriately prioritize your sleep. Until then, take a nap when it’s available, stay hydrated, eat well, get out in nature, and nourish your body in other ways that feel good.
1, 4. “Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Cognition.” Progress in Brain Research, Elsevier, 12 Nov. 2010, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780444537027000075.
2. “Sleep Matters: The Impact Of Sleep On Health And Wellbeing.” Mental Health Foundation, 11 Feb. 2020, www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/sleep-report.
3. “What Happens When You Sleep: The Science of Sleep.” Sleep Foundation, 30 Oct. 2020, www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep.
5-6. Orzeł-Gryglewska, J. (2010). Consequences of sleep deprivation. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 23(1). doi:10.2478/v10001-010-0004-9
7. Knutson, K. L., Spiegel, K., Penev, P., & Van Cauter, E. (2007). The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 11(3), 163–178. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2007.01.002