Chronic sleep deprivation is one of the most common health problems affecting Americans. Although the typical recommendation is for seven to nine hours of sleep every night for the average adult, about one-third of US adults regularly sleep less than seven hours each night.
All too often, sleep is treated as a luxury instead of a necessary part of the day. In our fast-paced society, we attempt to get more packed into each day at the expense of rest, and unfortunately, chronic sleep deprivation can have a variety of negative consequences on both cognitive function, overall health, and even safety. To better understand how sleep deprivation hurt the body, let’s take a look at the effects of sleep deprivation:
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep Deprivation’s Effects on the Brain
Sleep is incredibly important for a variety of brain functions. We know that sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Sleep also helps get rid of harmful toxins that are present in the brain, such as beta-amyloid, a protein that plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease.
If that’s not enough, many aspects of executive functioning, such as working memory, can malfunction when drowsy. Many falsely believe that the body can become accustomed to sleep deprivation over time. However studies show that with chronic sleep deprivation, the brain’s ability to maintain attention and focus continues to decline the longer someone is sleep deprived without any evidence that this dysfunction plateaus over time. For young children, sleep deprivation can even mimic the symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Sleep Deprivation and Overall Health
In addition to impairing mental function, lack of sleep has been associated with a whole host of risks to overall health. This includes increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as coronary artery disease, poor immune function, difficulty with blood sugar control, and an increase in body weight. Irritability and apathy are often concurrent with lack of sleep. Additionally, getting adequate sleep can be protective against mood disorders such as depression as well as anxiety. Clearly, our brains need sleep to ensure that the body as a whole remains healthy.
Sleep Deprivation and Safety
Perhaps the most under-recognized risk of sleep deprivation is safety. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 out of 25 adult drivers falls asleep behind the wheel every 30 days. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are a direct result of driver fatigue due to sleep exhaustion. Unfortunately, the brain also becomes more willing to take risks when it is sleep-deprived, and therefore, the combination of risk-taking and poor cognitive ability is a recipe for disaster.
Paying attention to sleep can have profound benefits to overall well-being. However, remember that not only is an adequate quantity of sleep important but so is the quality of your sleep. If you are experiencing signs of sleep deprivation, difficulty with insomnia or suspect you have a sleep disorder, please talk to your physician. Getting sleep on track might be the key step towards better health.
About The Author
Dr. Sujay Kansagra Sujay Kansagra, MD is an associate professor at Duke University Medical Center, a paid contributor of the The Daily Doze and Mattress Firm's Sleep Health Expert. He is also the Program Director of the Pediatric Neurology Residency Program and Director of the Duke Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program. Dr. Kansagra is double board certified in both Child Neurology and Sleep Medicine. He has published over 30 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals and is the author of numerous book chapters and books on the topic of sleep, including My Child Won’t Sleep. He’s been featured on Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Bustle, SheKnows, Thrillist, CNN, and Reader’s Digest, among others and can be found regularly discussing sleep, medicine and education with his 129K+ Twitter followers via his accounts, @medschooladvice and @PedsSleepDoc. Best Night’s Sleep: Not just a sleep expert, but also an expert sleeper, Dr. Kansagra can sleep almost anywhere, thanks to years of sleep deprivation during medical school and residency call nights. But his best sleep is at home with his family, on a mattress he purchased at Mattress Firm long before he joined our team. He recently upgraded it with an adjustable base.