Sleep is important for maintaining alertness, energy for daily duties and health. If you’re one of the 37 percent of people who sleep fewer than 7 hours per night—or if the quality of your sleep is poor—then you might be sleep-deprived. While some people need less sleep than others, studies show getting less sleep than you need may negatively affect your health.
The Impact of Sleep Deprivation
Being sleep-deprived may lead to:
- Symptoms that resemble and feel like depression or anxiety. For example, you may have a poor mood, irritability, low energy, decreased libido and poor judgment. The good news is these symptoms often disappear when normal sleep is restored.
- Decreased quality of life. You may cut back on activities you enjoy because you don't have enough energy for them. Falling asleep at inappropriate times may be embarrassing in public. Having a different sleep schedule than your spouse may even cause marital problems.
- Increased appetite. Research shows the hormones that help regulate appetite are affected by a lack of sleep. This effect of increased appetite could lead to overeating. Over time, this may contribute to obesity, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- Decreased immune function and greater risk for illness. Some animal and human studies have shown that lack of sleep appears to lower white blood cell count, which is an indication of decreased immune function. This means you may be more susceptible to illnesses when you are sleep deprived.
- Increased risk of heart attack, angina and stroke. Some recent studies suggest that sleepless nights may increase your risk of heart attack, angina and stroke. This could be related to research that shows people who sleep less have higher blood pressure and more atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries). The increased risk may also be related to sleep apnea, a series of pauses in breathing during sleep that causes poor-quality sleep and stresses your cardiovascular system.
- Increased risk of accidents and death. Some studies suggest people who don’t get enough good-quality sleep have an increased risk of death. This may be due to decreased reaction time and increased accidents, particularly car accidents. It may also be related to the fact that being sleep-deprived contributes to serious cardiovascular risk factors, which increase your risk of death.
Being sleep-deprived over time is not just an inconvenience. It can pose a serious health risk. And it’s a common problem in our fast-paced world.
Steps to Take to Improve Your Sleep
If you're not sleeping well, it's a good idea to talk with your doctor. There may be medical tests and treatments available that can help you sleep better. Poor sleep may also be a signal to take a look at your lifestyle for factors that may be contributing to the problem. Are you eating a balanced, heart-healthy diet? Are you getting enough physical activity? How is your stress level? Do you smoke? If so, it's time to quit, and your doctor can help.
Also try these tips to improve your sleep.