If you’ve ever experienced insomnia, you’ll know that a lack of sleep can leave you feeling irritable, slow and generally unwell. What you may not realize, however, is that frequent sleepless nights can wreak havoc with your long-term health. Among the most serious effects include memory issues, weight gain, and an increased risk of death.
If you regularly get less than the recommended seven to nine hours’ worth of sleep a night, you may not feel particularly motivated to change your habits. After all, many of us feel that we can function on much less than this. However, while you may not feel fatigued, failing to get enough shuteye could produce the following negative effects:
Increased risk of life-threatening health conditions
There have been swathes of scientific studies on the long-term effects of sleep loss in recent years, with many indicating strong links between impaired sleep and conditions including:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Heart disease
These illnesses have the potential to seriously impact your quality of life and could even be fatal.
Increased risk of accidents
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 91,000 motor vehicle crashes involving sleep-deprived drivers in the US in 2017. This is a shocking figure reflecting the extent to which drowsiness can impair a person’s reaction times. If your everyday routine involves controlling vehicles or machinery, you could be putting yourself and others in considerable danger.
If you ever find yourself falling asleep at the wheel, immediately take a break and consider it a sign that your sleep habits need improving.
If you’re keen to stay looking youthful or want to improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles, you should focus on getting your beauty sleep. In the short term, a night of tossing and turning can lead to puffy eyes and pale skin. These symptoms will usually improve once you have got back into a regular bedtime routine.
Chronic lack of sleep, on the other hand, could cause permanent damage to your complexion. This is because fatigue prompts the body’s release of cortisol, a stress hormone known for breaking down the skin’s collagen. Collagen is vital for keeping skin strong and youthful, so chronic sleep can eventually lead to fine lines, dark circles and a drained complexion.
It is also worth noting that sleeplessness can block the release of growth hormone. This hormone is vital for both growing children and adults, encouraging growth in the former, and increased muscle mass and strengthened bones in the latter. If you’re an adult who struggles to get enough sleep, your body may take a long time to recover following injury.
Sleep deprivation can lead to a lower libido, particularly in men. This can partly be explained by depleted energy levels reducing a person’s willingness to engage in physical activities. However, studies have also shown a strong correlation between low testosterone levels and sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Fortunately, there are plenty of effective treatments available to treat OSA that could help to improve a man’s sex life.
Impaired cognitive function
While we may not realize it, sleep plays a fundamental role in learning and thinking critically, helping the brain to consolidate important connections and memories made during the day. Lack of sleep, therefore, can significantly impede your everyday cognitive processes. As well as impairing your ability to concentrate and remain alert, it can affect your ability to solve simple problems and use basic reasoning skills.
While you’re unlikely to notice much of a difference after missing one night of sleep, persistent insomnia can make learning much more difficult in the long term – bad news if you’re studying for a test or hoping to learn a new language. To boost your brainpower, you must address sleep problems first and foremost.
Poor mental health
Achieving less than six hours’ worth of sleep a night increases a person’s risk of developing depression by 10 times. In many ways, this link represents a vicious circle that is difficult to break. Sleep loss can make depression worse, while depressive thoughts can make getting to sleep more difficult. Fortunately, there are plenty of effective treatments out there to treat both conditions simultaneously.
According to scientific studies, there is strong evidence to suggest there are links between lack of sleep and weight gain. This is because lack of sleep is thought to interfere with the body’s production of hormones known as ghrelin and leptin. It decreases leptin, which is responsible for telling the brain that you’re full, while increasing ghrelin, which stimulates hunger.
This is, of course, a recipe for disaster if you’re trying to lose weight. To make matters worse, fatigue is also thought to stimulate cravings for foods rich in fat and carbohydrates.
Immune system problems
Sleep is vital for the healthy functioning of the immune system as it produces special substances designed to fight infection such as cytokines and antibodies. If you fail to get at least seven hours of sleep a night, you are at increased risk of illnesses caused by viruses and bacteria. Your body may also take longer to recover than it would if you experienced a healthy sleep pattern.
A lack of sleep can make you forgetful as sleep is responsible for consolidating memories and can improve our ability to make neural connections.
Increased risk of death
One of the scariest effects of a chronic lack of sleep is an overall increased risk of death. Although scientists are reluctant to draw immediate conclusions about the reasons for this, it is thought that a combination of the problems sleeplessness causes such as immune, endocrine, and metabolic system damage are primarily to blame.
Addressing your sleep problems
As you can see, there are plenty of very good reasons to improve your bedtime habits if you frequently get less than seven hours’ worth of sleep a night. Helpful lifestyle changes could include:
- Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day
- Avoiding naps during the day
- Avoiding screens before going to bed
- Avoiding caffeine after midday
- Exercising regularly
- Reducing your alcohol intake
If you still find yourself unable to sleep after making these changes, it is worth visiting a doctor or sleep specialist. They will offer helpful advice and prescribe treatments that could improve your health and quality of life.