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8 Significant Health Risks Linked To Lack of Sleep

By Catherine Gordon
Updated January 6, 2015

Although you may think it is fine to trade some of your sleep for a few extra hours of work, the truth is that regularly having inadequate sleep leads to some striking consequences for the body. Here are eight risks you may not have realized are linked to lack of appropriate sleep, followed by advice about how to improve your own sleep routine.

1. Diabetes

Those who frequently struggle to get more than five hours sleep seem to be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Since getting the right amount of sleep influences effective blood sugar regulation, improving your right sleep routine can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and help to control your symptoms if you already have diabetes.

2. Obesity

If you want to stay in shape, it’s smart to get a good night’s sleep.

One research project on the link between obesity and fatigue showed that those who regularly got fewer than six hours of sleep per night were among the most likely to be carrying excess fat. Interestingly, it even seems that babies who don’t sleep for long have a higher likelihood of becoming overweight during childhood (though the casual relationship remains somewhat mysterious).

3. Reduced Immune System Function

It is now well-established that sleep quality influences your body’s ability to fight off invading viruses and bacteria.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, inflammation levels rise in a way that may inhibit immune system function. In addition, your sleep quality is adversely influenced by any infections you do develop, creating a vicious cycle.

4. Accidents

Lack of sleep influences your motor control and judgment, increasing your likelihood of getting into a car wreck. For example, one report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggested that over 100,000 wrecks and 1,550 resulting deaths are directly connected to fatigue, especially in younger people. Meanwhile, people with jobs involving manual labor are also more likely to be injured in the workplace.

5. Reduced Cognitive Ability

Sharp thinking, learning and concentration all depend on getting a decent amount of sleep.

Tests on sleep deprived participants repeatedly find a reduction in attention span, focus and problem-solving abilities. The cognitive impairments associated with sleep deprivation are also partly explained by the fact that you need to go through a range of sleep stages in order to properly consolidate memories and new experiences.

6. Depression

A 2005 poll conducted by sleep researchers discovered that participants who had sleep disorders or slept for less than six hours each night were more likely to experience serious symptoms of depression. In particular, people who have insomnia are significant more prone to depression, and depression itself can then make it even more difficult to sleep.

7. Shortened Lifespan

In one huge UK research project involving more than 10,000 people and lasting over twenty years, it was proven that people who slept for five hours (or less) each night were more than 50% likely to die during the study. The causes were numerous, but cardiovascular disease stood out as the most common.

8. Cardiovascular Disease

There is a general link between poor sleep and all forms of heart disease. Even if you are getting to six to seven hours of sleep each night, you are still more likely to develop coronary artery calcification and thereby more likely to have a heart attack or develop heart disease. In addition, lack of sleep seems to be linked to stroke risk and heart rhythm disturbances.

Still Asking Yourself, “So How Do I Improve My Sleep?”

Firstly, it’s wise to ensure that you get at least eight hours of sleep as often as you can. Further, you should respond to your body’s signals about sleep requirements, and you may well find that you need closer to nine hours of sleep to feel fully rested. You should also be mindful of the fact that a more physically or mentally tiring day will mean that you need more sleep than usual if you’re going to feel at your best the next day.

There are a number of things you can do to make every minute of sleep count.

If you have difficult falling asleep or staying asleep, you should try changing your routine. In particular, make sure your bedroom is a peaceful place and avoid using technology or watching television there.

Pin It You may also benefit from creating a relaxing ritual before bed, whether you choose to take a hot bath, mediate, listen to mellow music or read a book. The key is just to calm your thoughts and prepare your body for a quiet, restful night. Cutting caffeine intake in the evening can also make a huge difference. However, if these changes don’t improve your quality of sleep, talk to your doctor about the possibility of an underlying medical condition.

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Katherine Hurst
By Catherine Gordon
Catherine Gordon (PhD) has a background teaching and researching analytic philosophy. She is also a practising therapist who works with individuals and couples on issues relating to relationship difficulties, emotional well-being and self-improvement.

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