Sleep deficiency—something many people simply put up with—carries with it serious physical and mental health risks.
There are many health-related myths out there, but one that is perhaps most deceptively dangerous is that people can learn to get by on little sleep with no negative effects. Here’s the thing: we can’t. Research has shown that getting enough quality sleep at the right times is vital for our mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety. Like eating, drinking and breathing, sleeping is a basic human need. Like these other needs, sleeping is a vital part of the foundation for good health and well-being throughout your lifetime.
Your ability to function and feel well while you’re awake depends on whether you’re getting enough total sleep and enough of each type of sleep. It also depends on whether you’re sleeping at a time when your body is prepared and ready to sleep. You have an internal “body clock” that controls when you’re awake and when your body is ready for sleep. This clock typically follows a 24-hour repeating rhythm (called the circadian rhythm) and the rhythm also affects every cell, tissue and organ in your body and how they work.
To understand sleep deficiency, it helps to understand how sleep works and why it’s important. Sleep deprivation is a condition that occurs if you don’t get enough sleep. It occurs if you have one or more of the following:
• You don’t get enough sleep
• You sleep at the wrong time of day (that is, you’re out of sync with your body’s natural clock)
• You don’t sleep well or get all of the different types of sleep that your body needs
• You have a sleep disorder that prevents you from getting enough sleep or causes poor quality sleep
If you have all of them, chances are, you’ll likely feel very tired during the day. You may not feel refreshed and alert when you wake up. Sleep deficiency can interfere with work, school, driving and social functioning. You might have trouble learning, focusing, and reacting. Also, you might find it hard to judge other people’s emotions, reactions and also can make you feel frustrated, cranky or worried in social situations.
The Ultimate Risk
Sleep deficiency is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity and depression. Sleep deficiency is also associated with an increased risk of injury in adults, teens and children. For example, driver sleepiness (not related to alcohol) is responsible for a high number of fatal car crashes.
After several nights of losing sleep—even a loss of just one or two hours per night—your ability to function suffers as if you haven’t slept at all for a day or two. Lack of sleep also may lead to microsleep. Microsleep refers to brief moments of sleep that occur when you’re normally awake. You can’t control microsleep and you might even not be aware of it. For instance, have you ever driven somewhere and then not remembered part of the trip? If so, you may have experienced microsleep.
Why Sleep Is Important
For one, sleep helps your brain work properly. While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It’s forming new neuron pathways to help you learn and remember information. Whether you’re learning in the office, how to play guitar or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills, pay attention, make decisions and be creative.
Moreover, sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Also, it helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry or full. Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) levels. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.
Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way in which your immune system responds to various diseases.
Unfortunately, too many people aren’t aware of the risks of sleep deficiency. In fact, they may not even realize that they’re sleep deficient. Even with limited or poor-quality sleep, they may still think that they can function well. Change is a must and you can take steps to improve your sleep habits. First, make sure that you allow yourself enough time to sleep. This might sound like a no-brainer, but getting enough quality sleep at the right times helps you function well throughout the day. One thing for sure, making time to sleep will help you protect your health and well-being now and in the future.
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