The effects of sleep deprivation on your health

The effects of sleep deprivation on your health are numerous, and can lead to some dangerous health scenarios. In the course of your struggles with sleep apnea, it’s important to understand some basic sleep deprivation facts and understand how best to combat them.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 48 percent of Americans claim to struggle with insomnia on occasion, “while 22 percent report having difficulty sleeping every, or almost every, night.”1

“Health organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, the American Psychological Association and the Mayo Clinic have warned for years that Americans aren’t getting enough sleep, linking the condition to increased health risks, motor vehicle crashes, workplace accidents and decreased productivity,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.2

Those “increased health risks” are commonly defined as susceptibility to heart disease and cancer – pretty serious stuff, which we’ll explore in our next blog on long-term sleep deprivation facts.

Aside from these serious conditions, what are some of the short-term effects of sleep deprivation?

Drowsiness-caused accidents. This might seem like a no-brainer, but we don’t often take the time to consider the repercussions a night of missed sleep can have on our lives. The effects of sleep deprivation are often linked to motor vehicle crashes and occupational errors like industrial disasters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s official public health institute.3

Reckless behavior. One of the most sinister side effects of sleep deprivation is that lack of sleep can simulate a feeling of euphoria, which can cause us to make hasty decisions that might not be in our best interests. Missing a night’s sleep stimulates the neural circuit that controls pleasure and stifles the part of the brain generally responsible for reasoning and careful decision making. The result? “You’re inclined to be overly optimistic and happy to take risks,” writes The Guardian’s David Cox in an analysis of sleep deprivation’s effects.4

Memory loss. We’ll more fully examine the long-term effects of sleep deprivation on the brain in an upcoming post, but even short-term sleep loss can affect important brain functions like memory. Ironically, the kind of short-term sleep deprivation that students regularly subject themselves to probably does more harm than good. When you stay up all night studying, “last-minute cramming refuses to sink in, because the consolidation of memories occurs during deep sleep,” Cox writes.

Diet, appetite and obesity. Missing sleep, even in the short term, can affect your appetite, causing you to crave foods that you might normally avoid, and eating more than you know you should. A recent study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology suggests (non-conclusively) that skipping sleep leads to eating larger portions in the morning.5 And even after that big breakfast, “sleep-deprived subjects chose larger portions of snacks.”

These sleep deprivation facts might be alarming, but if you’re deliberately missing sleep – to study, to work more, or for whatever reason – then you should understand the effects of sleep deprivation on your health and your lifestyle. And if that’s not enough of a wake-up call, in our next blog entry, we’ll explore some of the more serious, longer-term effects of sleep deprivation.

This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.

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