Sleep deprivation is a part of American life these days. Americans work more each day than any other industrialized country. They often have other activities after work, and usually arrive home late into the evening. By the time a person settles into bed, it can be late that night or even early the next morning.
It’s no surprise that an estimated 30 percent of Americans get less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. While that can just mean feeling a little drowsy after one night, the lack of sleep can have serious consequences long-term. Here are eight facts about sleep deprivation.
1) Driving while sleep deprived is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated
People know they should not drink and drive. There have been campaigns, speakers, billboards and advertisements that are centered around educating the public so that we don’t drink and drive. There has not, however, been much effort to warn people about the dangers of sleep deprivation and driving. A recent European study equated the dangers of drowsy driving to drunk driving. The symptoms are very much the same:
- a lack of focus
- slow reaction time
- inability to make decisions
The study looked at crashes from police and health databases and found that just as many incidents were caused by sleep deprivation as being under the influence of intoxicants.
2) Sleep deprivation affects men and women differently
Women and men face different challenges when it comes to health; for sleep, it is no different. A recent study from Duke University found that sleep deprivation has a greater impact on the health of women. While men are more likely to be impacted by sleep deprivation, women appear to suffer more consequences. Women who suffer from sleep deprivation are at higher risk of cardiovascular and diabetes than their male counterparts, according to the researchers. They speculated that the difference in naturally occurring hormone levels in men and women could be the reason but said more research is needed.
3) Lack of sleep increases the risk of Alzheimer’s
Sleep plays a major role in cleaning out toxins in the brain and throughout the body. The system that removes toxins is 10 times more active when the body is sleeping than when it is awake. Sleep deprivation is believed to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, because the body has been denied the opportunity to remove the amount of toxins necessary. As these toxins accumulate, diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia can develop.
4) Sleep deprivation increases the risk of cancer
Recent studies are starting to show that sleep deprivation not only creates problems with memory and concentration, but also raises the risk of cancer, especially breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. One study found that people with sleep problems are twice as likely to develop prostate cancer. Researchers also discovered a 50 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer for people sleeping less than six hours per night. People who suffer from sleep apnea are believed to be at greater risk of all types of cancer.
5) Not sleeping causes weight gain
People exercise and eat a healthy diet to maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight. Lack of sleep, however, can make those goals almost impossible for two reasons.
- A person has less willpower when drowsy, and will often turn to late night snacking – usually sugary foods – to gain a little extra energy.
- When people don’t get enough sleep, hormones in their body don’t return to optimal levels.
Hormones such as ghrelin and leptin, which tell the body when to eat, are reset during sleep. Therefore, sleep deprivation causes people to crave food, as the hormones are not at the proper level.
6) Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system
It’s common sense that a person is more likely to get sick due to a lack of sleep. Researchers have recently found that T-cells, which play a major role in fighting off disease, decline with a lack of sleep. The body reacts to sleep derivation in a way similar to stress, and it is not able to conduct itself properly to fight off disease.
7) Reduces the effect of vaccines
Millions of people get the flu shot each year, but the vaccine is basically worthless without enough sleep. Researchers looked at the sleep patterns of people who got the flu vaccine, and they found that people who don’t get enough sleep were 11.5 times more likely to see no impact from the vaccine. The body appears not to create the necessary antibodies from the shot when a person is sleep deprived.
8) Sleep deprivation increases your risk of a stroke
Each year, 140,000 people die from a stroke in the United States. That’s a scary statistic. The European Heart Journal released a study of 470,000 people from 8 different countries, and found that people who suffer from sleep deprivation are 15 percent more likely to suffer a stroke.