Losing a few hours of sleep here and there is inevitable – traveling, kids, and lousy neighbors can leave us groggy and unrested the next morning. But maintaining a regular, full sleep schedule is vital to stay healthy and active. More than half of all Americans do not get eight hours of sleep each night. Upwards of 60 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. If you miss out on proper sleep most nights, then you might face these serious health risks.
1: It Could Make You Fat
In the Unites States, over one-third of adults are obese. Most people know that diet and lack of exercise are leading causes of this epidemic – but what about sleep?
Statistically, people who regularly under-sleep (less than 6 hours per night) are much more likely to have an above average Body Mass Index. Following this, people who sleep a solid 8 hours most nights have the lowest BMI.
In order to understand why, we need to learn a little bit about two natural body hormones.
Ghrelin: this hormone stimulates the hunger response. It is highest prior to meals, and lowers after meals. Along with other hormones, it works to ensure the proper regulation of hunger before eating, and satiety after.
Leptin: this is another hormone which, rather than stimulating appetite, works the opposite way. Leptin works to signal your brain that you are full, and no more food is required.
While you sleep, your body produces and regulates these hormones (along with many others). Not enough sleep, and the hormone levels become imbalanced: lack of sleep is commonly associated with higher ghrelin levels, and lower leptin levels. Not only does the body have a drive to consume more, but the systems that are supposed to tell you that you are full do not work properly. As a result, people without enough sleep have powerful food cravings, which overtime lead to overeating and obesity.
Another, better known, hormone is insulin. Insulin helps to regulate blood sugar and energy use in the body. Inadequate sleep has also been tied to increased insulin secretion after a meal. Higher insulin is strongly associated with weight gain.
These various hormone imbalances can sabotage someone’s health and diet, leading to a prevalence of obesity.
On a more practical level, lack of sleep leads to fatigue. When you’re tired, it’s hard to exercise, so people aren’t able to go out and burn off excel calories.
2: It Contributes to Diabetes
Long-term lack of sleep can also result in Type 2 Diabetes. This is due to the way that your body uses glucose.
As we saw above, irregular sleep leads to higher insulin levels. Insulin utilizes blood glucose to provide the body with the energy it needs. By throwing a wrench in insulin production, the glucose levels in your body are also altered. Ongoing problems with blood glucose can lead to the development of Diabetes.
One study reduced the sleep of healthy subjects from eight to four hours per night. The subjects processed glucose more slowly than when their sleep was unrestricted.
A number of wide-spread epidemiological studies have indicated this connection between undersleeping and diabetes.
3: It Can Lead to Heart Disease and Hypertension
If you already have hypertension, you may be especially prone to this risk. Just one night of mediocre sleep can result in higher blood pressure the following day.
A recent study in the European Heart Journal followed 50,000 subjects for more than ten years. Researchers found that people who slept poorly were more likely to develop heart failure. In fact, poor sleepers were three times more likely to develop heart failure than the sound sleepers.
The cause may lie in the stress hormones released due to missed sleep, which in turn damage normal heart operation. However, the direct cause, if any, is unclear.
Researchers that conducted similar studies found a continued connection between sleep and hearth disease, even when additional risk factors like age, weight, and lifestyle were taken out of the equation.
[…]sleep duration itself came out as something that was predictive of future cardiovascular disease.
-Dr. Janet Mullington
High blood pressure can also come from a seemingly innocuous nighttime sleep disorder – snoring. Sleep apnea, in some individuals, can cause sleepers to awaken during the night due to a blocked airway. This sudden jolt into wakefulness is accompanied by a surge in blood pressure. In time, this too can lead to hypertension.
4: It Makes You Grumpy
It is common knowledge that bad sleep or no sleep can lead to crankiness. You may find yourself snipping at others, easily upset, and irritable without proper rest.
The potential mood disorders can be far more serious though. Sleep and mood disorder labs are continually researching the links between sleep and mental well-being.
Chronic lack of sleep, or full-fledged insomnia, is often tied with depression. Whether one causes the other, or they have a common cause, is not fully known. Similarly, bi-polar disease and a variety of mental disorders are linked with sleep problems.
5: It Makes You Sicker Longer
The last time you were sick, did you want to stay up late, or did you get sleepy earlier than usual? Most likely, you found yourself extra tired until you had kicked the bug. Your immune system actually releases substances to make you tired – and to get you to bed.
While you sleep, your body is better able to fight off infections. Less sleep, or inadequate sleep, means that your body is less able to produce white blood cells and defend itself. Animal studies have shown just that, and rats with deep sleep are better able to respond to infections than rats that are sleep deprived.
6: You’ll Die Younger
From the variety of problems above, and some others, individuals that receive five hours of sleep or less are more likely to die. Their mortality rate is 15% higher than individuals that get enough sleep.
Fifteen percent might not seem like much when your calculating a tip, but when you are adding up the years of your life, it’s a lot bigger.
photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc