How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect the Body?

It’s official: “more than one-third of American adults do not get enough sleep on a consistent basis.” This is the finding of a new study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to The Medical Daily, a website dedicated to covering health and science news, “an estimated 50 to 70 million adults in the United States alone report experiencing sleep difficulties.”

“Over time, sleep deprivation has been linked to weight gain, poor memory, an increased risk of injury, and more,” it continues.

sleep deprivation

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a non-profit academic medical centre, approximately 6,000 fatal accidents occur in the United States each year as a result of sleep deprivation.

According to the same organisation, not getting enough sleep increases your risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes .

We looked at the effects of sleep deprivation on the body in this article. We begin by defining sleep deprivation and examining what constitutes adequate sleep.

Finally, the article discusses how sleep deprivation affects your body and how you can avoid it.

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What Exactly Is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is a condition in which a person’s lack of sleep begins to affect their awareness, health, and overall performance.

Sleep deprivation is linked not only to the amount of time spent sleeping, but also to the quality of sleep.

This means that even if you are sleeping for the recommended number of hours, you may still be suffering from sleep deprivation if your sleep is habitually disrupted to the point where you are not sleeping through all stages of the sleep cycle.

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How Much Sleep Is Enough?

sleep deprivation

The amount of sleep you require each day changes throughout your life; thus, the concept of adequate sleep varies from person to person.

However, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recently issued recommendations on the average amount of sleep required by the average person.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH) has also endorsed these recommendations, which are listed in the table below .

AgeRecommended Amount of Sleep
Infants aged 4-12 months12-16 hours a day (including naps)
Children aged 1-2 years11-14 hours a day (including naps)
Children aged 3-5 years10-13 hours a day (including naps)
Children aged 6-12 years9-12 hours a day
Teens aged 13-18 years8-10 hours a day
Adults aged 18 years or older7–8 hours a day
(1)

Regardless of the AASM’s recommendations, it is your responsibility to determine how much sleep you require and then work toward achieving it.

But how do you figure out how much sleep you need as an individual? One simple test is that if you wake up tired and spend the day looking forward to a chance to nap, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.

Factors Associated with Sleep Deprivation

Poor sleep has been linked to a variety of factors. Insomnia (habitual inability to sleep), parasomnia (abnormal emotions, behaviours, dreams, or perceptions while sleeping), restless leg syndrome (an uncontrollable urge to move the legs), and sleep apnea (a sleeping disorder in which breathing stops and starts continuously) are examples of these.

Poor sleeping habits, on the other hand, have been identified as the leading cause of poor sleep.

Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

How can you tell if you’re getting enough sleep? SleepHelp.org offers some examples (see below) of common signs of sleep deprivation:

  • Obvious disruption in sleep patterns: Spending the majority of your time in bed tossing and turning, generally struggling to sleep, or waking up too early and failing to fall back asleep.
  • Feeling sleepy for the majority of the day: If you are sleep deprived, you may find yourself involuntarily dozing off and feeling tired and sleepy most of the time.
  • Cognitive issues include difficulty focusing, failing to recall previously learned information, and reacting slowly.
  • Mood swings are feelings of frustration and irritability.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Brain

effects of sleep on brain

Sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, drowsiness, feelings of anxiety and depression, difficulty concentrating, and microsleeps (a situation in which you briefly fall asleep, sometimes without even realising it).

Brett Klika, writing for AceFitness.org, a website owned by the American Council on Exercise, quotes the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) as saying that “from a day-to-day standpoint, lack of sleep can impair coordination and short-term memory, while amplifying the negative impact of stress”.

Jennifer Still quotes the NICHD in an article for the financial and business news website Business Insider. “Not getting enough quality sleep affects mood, performance, concentration, and our ability to form memories,” she writes.

Still adds that sleep deprivation “can harm your relationships as well as increase anxiety.”

Sleep deprivation can also triple your chances of developing dementia by 33%. Dementia is defined by the Alzheimer’s Association as “an umbrella term for diseases and conditions characterised by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving, and other thinking skills that affect a person’s ability to perform daily activities”.

Individuals who do not get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from depression, fuzzy thinking, forgetfulness, anxiety, and irritability.

Aside from affecting your mood, concentration, performance, and memory, sleep deprivation, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, can also prematurely age your brain by three to five years.

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Weight Issues

According to the American Sleep Association, a rat study concluded that sleep-deprived rats eat more than those who get enough sleep.

According to this study, chronic sleep deprivation promotes an increase in appetite. Inadequate sleep also interferes with the hormones that regulate hunger and glucose metabolism (The process in which the body converts food to energy).

One of the consequences is an increase in weight, as well as the other problems that come with it, such as diabetes and hypertension .

Another possible explanation for the link between sleep deprivation and weight problems is that sleep deprivation is associated with the development of cravings for sweet, starchy, and salty foods.

Added to this are higher levels of ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone, and lower levels of leptin, the hormone that aids in appetite control.

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Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes

Julian Vigo reports in a Forbes article, citing the NICHD, that “inadequate sleep is associated with numerous health problems, including an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes”.

Poor sleepers are three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who get regular quality sleep, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

According to the same institution, lack of sleep weakens the immune system and increases the risk of developing heart disease by 48%. Individuals who are affected are three times more likely to catch a cold.

Increased Chances of Certain Cancers and Skin Aging

According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, working the night shift increases the risk of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, bowel cancer, or rectal cancer, is a type of cancer. It begins in large intestine sections.

Despite the fact that the study does not specifically mention sleep deprivation, it concludes that “exposure to light at night suppresses the physiologic production of melatonin, a hormone with antiproliferative effects on intestinal cancers”.

This means that if you don’t sleep when you’re supposed to, you may be increasing your risk of certain cancers.

A similar study, commissioned by the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in collaboration with the beauty products manufacturer Estée Lauder Companies Inc., concludes that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop skin problems.

According to the same study, such people’s skin ages faster than the skin of people who get enough sleep.

Managing Sleep Deprivation

According to medical evidence, getting enough sleep is essential for maintaining good health and functioning effectively.

While “enough” may mean different things to different people, experts agree that seven to nine hours of sleep per night is adequate.

However, it is also clear that many people fall short of this target.

So, what should you do to ensure that you get enough sleep on a regular basis? Harvard Medical School offers the following advice:

  • Keep electronic devices out of your sleeping area.
  • If possible, avoid naps because they can disrupt your sleep schedule.
  • Late in the day, avoid beer and caffeine.
  • Exercise on a regular basis, but avoid doing so within three hours of going to bed.
  • If you’re getting enough sleep but still feel tired in the morning, it’s time to see a doctor.

According to the Department of Neurology at the University of Columbia, one of the most effective ways to deal with sleep deprivation is to create and stick to a sleep schedule.

This implies that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. The same institution also recommends that you make your bedroom comfortable by keeping it neither too hot nor too cold, as this can disrupt your sleep.

Other habits, such as meditating, reading, or taking a warm bath before bed, can help you calm your mind and drift off to sleep peacefully.

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