Everyone knows that sleepless nights lead to difficult days. When we are overtired we snap at the people we love, have trouble focusing and concentrating at school or work, and may even struggle to stay awake while working or driving. These are some of the short-term effects of our most common sleeping problems. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know that sleeplessness can do us real damage over the long-term and may even impact how long we live and the quality of the life we have left.
The science of sleep is continuously evolving as new research provides greater insight into what happens in our bodies and brains when we close our eyes. Studies in recent years have helped sleep scientists understand that there is much more to sleep than what is happening in our brains. Getting a good night sleep does more than just help your brain to organize memories or process experiences. It turns hormones on and off, affects the levels of different proteins in our bodies, and regulates chemical balances in many areas. Not getting the sleep you need can throw these things off balance which can impact your overall health now and for the rest of your life.
The primary cause of long term sleep problems is untreated sleep disorders like sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome. When left unchecked, these disorders can impact your health in ways that you would never link to sleep. For example, untreated sleep disorders increase the risk of heart attack by 5 times. Research shows that getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night increases the level of inflammatory proteins, like C-reactive protein, in your blood. These types of proteins are linked to heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. Here are some of the other serious health consequences of sleepless nights.
- Increased Risk of Stroke – People who get less than 6 hours of sleep a night are two to four times as likely as others to have a stroke. This is true even if you do not have other risk factors like having high blood pressure, being overweight, or not getting enough physical activity.
- Increased Risk of Dying from Cancer – Not getting enough sleep makes you five times more likely to die from cancer than those who are getting the sleep they need.
- Increased Risk of Developing Diabetes – If you aren’t getting the sleep you need, you are increasing your risk for insulin resistance and diabetes. Sleep helps manage and regulate the hormone levels in your body and when you don’t get enough sleep, this function doesn’t operate properly which can result in insulin resistance and other problems.
- Loss of Libido and Erectile Dysfunction – Another hormonal problem that can result from lack of sleep is imbalances that impact sex drive. Men who are sleep deprived can experience problems with erectile dysfunction while women can watch their libido disappear just from lack of sleep.
- Increased Risk for Auto Accidents – There is no question that drowsy driving takes lives but most of us don’t realize just how dangerous it really it. Sleep deprivation, even in the short term, can increase your risk of getting in a car accident by six times.