The Health Risks of Sleep Deprivation

The Health Risks of Sleep DeprivationWhen the cold weather sets in and the days get shorter, bears hibernate. For humans, however, getting enough sleep is not quite so easy. While bears instinctively know when it’s time for a long, deep sleep, people tend to ignore the cues for extra rest and push full steam ahead. The result can be chronic tiredness from sleep deprivation. As children, we had parents nagging us to go to bed. As adults, however, with the responsibilities of busy and stressful careers and family obligations, “putting yourself to bed” can require even more discipline than your parents exhibited. Developing this habit can not only improve your energy levels, and keep you healthier, but it might also decrease your risk of serious health problems down the road.

In 2001, researchers found that sleeping less than 6 hours per night and remaining awake past midnight increased the likelihood of obesity. In 2002, a study of 1.1 million people found that increasing body mass index (BMI) occurred when habitual sleep amounts fell below 7 to 8 hours.

Additional studies on sleep deprivation have shown that it can lead to metabolic and endocrine changes, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased levels of ghrelin, and decreased levels of leptin as well as increased hunger and appetite. These metabolic and hormonal changes can lead to over-eating, weight gain and obesity.

Sleep deprivation is associated with a nearly 40% decrease in glucose tolerance. This reduction of glucose tolerance was associated with decreased insulin sensitivity. The combination of these two metabolic defects indicates an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Reduction in insulin sensitivity is also associated with increased risk of weight gain and obesity.

If increasing your risk for obesity and all of the health risks that go along with it including Type 2 Diabetes isn’t convincing enough, consider the effects on your immune system. Diwakar Balachandran, MD director of the Sleep Center at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Center in Houston states, “The more all-nighters you pull, the more likely you are to decrease your body’s ability to respond to colds or bacterial infections. A lot of studies show our T-cells go down if we are sleep deprived.” He adds “And inflammatory cytokines go up. … This could potentially lead to the greater risk of developing a cold or flu.” During flu season especially, the last thing we need help with is increasing our risk.
Adequate sleep is also a critical component of recovering from illness. Those who “power through it” and continue to show up at the office, not only risk their co-workers’ health, but also prolong the length of their own illness. The purpose of a fever is to fight infection. Activity can suppress the fever response which is primed at night or while sleeping. Staying in bed even just one day can help your body fight your illness with all it’s natural defenses.

In today’s society, to be a “workaholic,” or a person who compulsively works hard and long hours, is to carry somewhat of a badge of honor. Hard workers are thought to be the opposite of lazy, the true bastions of success. But to what end? When that success is coupled with a host of disease states promising to reduce your life expectancy, is it worth it? There is a reason (other than peace and quiet) that your parents made you go to bed. For a longer, happier and healthier life, go to bed earlier….but not before you eat your vegetables.

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