According to guidelines issued by the CDC, a healthy adult should be aiming for at least seven hours of sleep every night. Some resources bump this number up to eight hours, while others even go as far as nine.
But while experts may not agree on how much sleep is enough, they all agree that anything below the recommended amount of sleep puts you at risk of sleep deprivation.
So what are the signs of sleep deprivation? And how does it affect your health? If you’re ready to find out, read on.
Physical Wellbeing Consequences
There are numerous consequences of sleep deprivation. And, logically, they differ by how much sleep you’re missing. For the average person, however (someone not suffering from chronic insomnia or going 24+ hours without sleep), the most common effects include:
If you’ve ever missed a night of sleep – whether cramming for an exam or caring for a family member who had come down with the flu – you’re probably well acquainted with the symptom of drowsiness. It’s the first sign your body sends when it needs more rest. And you’re probably well-versed at taking care of it. A 90-minute nap, a cup of coffee, or a brisk walk can all help you feel more energized to take on the day’s tasks.
The problem with drowsiness, however, is that it can increase your risk of having an accident or suffering an injury. For example, it is estimated that drowsy driving is the cause of approximately 9% of car crashes and almost 2% of driving fatalities.
2. Weakened immunity
The second sign of sleep deprivation you’re sure to experience is going to be a weakened immune system. Have you ever come down with a bug after a busy week? Well, your body may have been so focused on getting you through the day that it downregulated its immune response.
Scientific research has shown a direct link between sleep and immune-cell number, function, and cytokine production. Moreover, data suggests that chronic deprivation has a more detrimental effect than acute lack of sleep. That’s why shift workers often feel the effects of sleep deprivation the most.
3. Weight gain
Have you ever noticed that you feel hungrier when you’re operating on just a few hours of sleep? If you have, you won’t be surprised to hear that chronic sleep deprivation also comes with potential weight gain. The reason for this lies in the fact that ghrelin and leptin are regulated when you sleep. These two hormones are in charge of regulating appetite, which explains why a 2004 research study found a direct link between sleep length and BMI.
4. High blood sugar
Research suggests that people who chronically miss sleep have higher blood sugar than those who get the recommended seven hours. In the long run, this can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
5. High blood pressure
The last physical effect of sleep deprivation comes as high blood pressure and heart rate. A study from 1999 found that patients who had experienced acute sleep deprivation had a higher urinary excretion of the norepinephrine hormone. Moreover, data suggests that chronic sleep deprivation leads to increased cardiovascular risk, which is in line with these findings.
Mental Health Consequences
Most people tend to think about health in terms of physical wellbeing. Nonetheless, it’s essential to understand that sleep deprivation also impacts mental health.
Data suggests that not getting enough rest has a detrimental effect on cognitive capacity, making it more difficult to concentrate. Furthermore, it can impair memory, cause mood changes, and has even been linked with depression.
Considering all this, it becomes clear that developing healthy sleep hygiene makes for one of the best self-care habits. Moreover, it can be used as a way to increase mental and physical performance as well as to improve mood.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should be sleeping for ten hours per day. Too much sleep can also lead to consequences. But, aiming for that suggested range of seven to nine hours does make a difference.
Mitigating the Effects of Sleep Deprivation
All right, so now that you know all the ways sleep deprivation affects your health, it’s time to start thinking about what you can do to ensure you’re in the best possible shape. Both physically and mentally.
First and foremost, consider the reasons you’re experiencing sleep deprivation in the first place. Is it because you’re stressed or busy? Or are you having difficulties getting a good night’s rest because of a more serious cause like dysfunctional breathing?
Secondly, try to do your best to prepare for high-quality sleep. Don’t just adjust your routine, but consider your environment as well. Is your mattress comfortable, and are you sleeping in the best position? Is the temperature in the right range? Do you use blackout blinds? Any of these can affect how easily you fall asleep, so try to make your bedroom the perfect place for getting a good night’s rest.
Finally, if you find that small behavioral changes aren’t helping, seek out professional advice. If you’re dealing with a lot of emotional stress, a therapist will be able to help you work through your issues. Or, if you feel like your sleep deprivation is caused by a medical issue, a health practitioner will be the best person to turn to. They’ll have the experience required to address the root cause of your problems.
Experiencing sleep deprivation isn’t uncommon. And, for most people, the consequences won’t be long-term. Yes, there’ll be some drowsiness and moodiness involved, but these can be easily solved by getting a bit more rest the following days.
However, if you’re constantly feeling sleep-deprived, it might be time to start doing something about it. Otherwise, you could find yourself paying for it down the road.