According to various surveys, 40% of Americans don’t get the recommended minimum of 7 hours uninterrupted sleep per night and between 50 and 70 million US people don’t get enough sleep overall. If you think that isn’t a serious problem, you should be aware that sleep deprivation can cause cognitive and physiological changes. They can become permanent and none of them is for the better.
What Really Happens to Your Body When You Are Sleep Deprived
Increased Risk of Deadly Chronic Diseases
Studies indicate that people who are regularly sleep deprived (this means everyone not having those recommended 7 hours) have a higher incidence of:
- Coronary artery disease
You might have seen them in the Leading Causes of Death list of the National Center for Health Statistics. Combined, these conditions claim over a half of all lives lost in a year, beating accident and injury-related deaths by a huge margin.
The reasons behind the increased incidence of these conditions in sleep-deprived people are very complex. But in short they can be explained by the fact that when your body doesn’t get enough rest, it goes into a ‘fight or flight’ mode. This overexcites the nervous system, increases the release of cortisol (stress hormone) and wreaks havoc on your insulin resistance mechanisms. The result is the weakening of your body and development of the aforementioned conditions. As these medical issues are chronic, they cannot be cured. So, those effects of sleep deprivation are permanent.
Lack of sleep interferes with the production of ghrelin and leptin. These are the hormones responsible for the feelings of hunger and satiety. On average, people short on sleep have about a 30% higher risk of becoming obese because they feel hungry all the time.
You should be able to fix these changes by taking supplements that help with appetite control. These pills, combined with a healthy diet and sleep schedule should help you get your appetite-inducing hormone levels back on track. However, don’t forget that all your efforts will be wasted if you go back to irregular or short sleep.
Impaired Brain Development in Children
Despite the existence of numerous studies of the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain, the extent of the damage caused by it has yet to be measured. However, it’s already a proven fact that not getting even an hour of the necessary sleep regularly can slow down the cognitive development of an infant.
The damage caused by lack of sleep affects the synaptic plasticity. This means that it can interfere with memory development and cause attention disorders. There is no way to fix this damage, only to try and manage the issues it causes.
Brain Damage (possibly irreparable)
The studies of the effects of sleep deprivation on cognition are many and all of them show that these two are closely connected. The extent and mechanisms of the damage caused by insufficient rest are a subject of many studies at the moment. One of the prevailing theories is that irreparable brain damage is caused by the thinning of blood-brain barrier caused by sleep deprivation.
A big study published in the Journal of Immunology Research proved that the thinning of this barrier causes toxins carried by the blood to seep into the brain. The result is inflammation that’s too small to be noticed, but damaging enough to cause serious cognitive problems. That’s part of a reason why you are inattentive and your head feels ‘fuzzy’ after a sleepless night.
There are also indications that in some people chronic sleep deprivation might cause a change in the brain’s reaction to inflammation. This has potential to affect your wellbeing as a whole as well as impair your brain function. The lack of proper rest also prevents your body from making new nerve cells, which also impairs memory.
The simple conclusion is that lack of sleep dumbs you down. Literally. This change can become permanent if your sleep loss becomes chronic.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation: Is There Any Hope?
As you can see, the majority of changes caused by chronic lack of sleep are subtle yet permanent. This means that the only thing you can do to avoid the potentially tragic consequences is to get enough sleep every day. No other solution exists, and even that won’t undo the damage already wrought. Therefore, if you want to avoid slow degradation, rework your daily schedule right away and think of how you can change your life to get those precious hours of daily rest.