I think we all know by now that most American adults aren't getting enough sleep. We get up early in the morning to go to work, spend long hours on the job and then stay up late trying to get caught up on housework and our favorite television shows. It's tough, because it seems like there aren't enough hours in the day to finish everything and get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Most people realize they're not getting enough sleep, but don't really understand how sleep deprivation effects the body.
More than a quarter of the United States population reports they occasionally don't get enough sleep, which 1 in 10 adults reports suffering from chronic insomnia. Not getting enough sleep can have far-reaching health consequences, both in the short and the long term.
When your body doesn't get the sleep it needs, it creates something known as sleep debt. This is the amount of sleep you owe to your body, measured in terms of how much sleep it has been deprived of. A day or two of staying up late will only add a few hours to your sleep debt and is relatively inconsequential in terms of the effects of sleep deprivation on the body. Sure, you'll be a bit tired during the day and your motor skills may suffer a bit, but your body will recover fairly quickly once you get a good night's sleep or two.
Not getting enough sleep for weeks or even months on end is more problematic because you're building up a much greater sleep debt. Think of sleep debt like a loan you take out against your body, with your overall health being the collateral. An hour or two of debt isn't a big deal and can easily be repaid. Spend a month missing out on a couple hours sleep a night and you're 60 hours in debt. A year of burning the candle at both ends creates a backlog of more than 700 hours.
How Sleep Deprivation Effects the Body
Build up enough sleep debt and you'll begin to see just how sleep deprivation effects the body. Here are just some of the many effects of not getting enough sleep:
- Decreased cognitive function.
- Loss of memory.
- Excessive yawning.
- Weariness and fatigue.
- Aches and pains.
- Increased susceptibility to disease.
- Impaired immune system health.
- Increased heart rate and an elevated risk of developing heart disease.
The exact symptoms and the severity of the symptoms varies widely from person to person.
Not getting enough sleep can leave you in such a fog, some researchers have likened it to being drunk. Reaction times are slower and decision making skills are reduced, just like after you've had a few drinks. The scary thing is most of us think nothing of getting behind the wheel when we're exhausted. Additionally, our decision making skills are affected and the ability of the brain to process inhibitions is affected.
Perhaps the biggest threat associated with not getting enough sleep is the effect it has on the immune system. Lack of sleep has been shown to lead to an elevated risk of developing diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer's disease and even certain types of cancer.
There's never a better time than now to start getting more sleep. Relax, unwind and catch some Z's. Your body will thank you for it.