In our 24/7 culture, sleep loss is a major problem. Back in 1942, we averaged almost 8 hours of sleep a night — now that’s down to 6.8. (Seven to 9 hours per night are what’s generally recommended.)
Almost 40% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep a night, a recent Gallup poll found, and an estimated 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder.
Everyone knows that it’s important to get enough sleep — but you may not realize just how many things can go wrong when you don’t.
Here are 25 unfortunate risks of partial and total sleep deprivation, some more common than others.
“Complaints of irritability and [emotional] volatility following sleepless nights” are common, a team of Israeli researchers observed. They put those complaints to the test by following a group of underslept medical residents. The study found that the negative emotional effect of disruptive events — things like being interrupted while in the middle of doing something — were amplified by sleep loss.
Scientists don’t yet know exactly why sleep deprivation leads to headaches — but it’s a connection doctors have noticed for more than a century. Migraines can be triggered by sleepless nights, and 36 to 58% of people with sleep apnea wake up with “nondescript morning headaches.”
3. Inability to learn
Sleepiness has long been an issue among adolescents. One study of middle school students found that “delaying school start times by one hour, from roughly 7:30 to 8:30, increases standardized test scores by at least 2 percentile points in math and 1 percentile point in reading.”
But it’s not just kids. Short-term memory is a crucial component of learning, and sleep deprivation significantly impaired the ability of adult volunteers to remember words they’d been shown the day before. In another study, researchers found that while people tend to improve on a task when they do it more than once, this isn’t true if they are kept awake after they try it the first time — even if they sleep again before doing it again.
4. Weight gain
People who are underslept seem to have hormone imbalances that are tied to increased appetite, more cravings for high-calorie foods, a greater response to indulgent treats, and a dampened ability to control their impulses — a very dangerous combination. It’s true that you burn more calories when awake, but not nearly enough to cancel out the many excess calories you consume when exhausted.
5. Poor vision
Sleep deprivation is associated with tunnel vision, double vision, and dimness. The longer you are awake, the more visual errors you’ll encounter, and the more likely you are to experience outright hallucinations.
6. Heart disease
When researchers kept people awake for 88 hours, their blood pressure went up — no big surprise there. But even subjects who were allowed to sleep for 4 hours a night had an elevated heart rate when compared to those getting 8 hours. Concentrations of C-reactive protein, a marker of heart disease risk, increased in those fully and partially deprived of sleep.
Your reaction time is severely impeded when you don’t get enough sleep. When researchers gave West Point cadets two tests that require quick decision-making, some were allowed to sleep between the tests, while others were not. Those who had slept did better the second time — those who had not did worse, and their reactions slowed down. A study in college athletes found similar results.
You know that great thing your immune system does, where when you get an open wound of some kind it doesn’t always get infected immediately? Prolonged sleep deprivation and even one night of sleeplessness can impede your body’s natural defenses against microorganisms.
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