The Perils of Shortchanging Sleep

For some of us, a full night’s sleep feels unattainable not because of any medical conditions or sleep disorders. Instead, we’re at the mercy of night shifts, newborn wakings, or hectic schedules that just don’t fit within a 24-hour day. We pay the price, of course, for this shortfall: ongoing exhaustion, mental fogginess, crushing midafternoon slumps.

The impact of sleep deprivation, however, runs deeper than mere fatigue. Far from a simple rest time for body and brain, sleep instigates an active assortment of physical processes, including crucial growth and repair processes for everything from skin to brain to bone. Even minor deficiencies set off a destructive chain of physiological events, a problem that worsens over time with a mounting sleep deficit.

  • Hormonal Disruption and Imbalance

Adequate rest is crucial for maintaining the delicate interplay of hormonal secretion and balance. Although our natural circadian rhythms set the stage for this complex hormonal orchestration, consistent and sufficient sleep itself shapes the end result. Human growth hormone (HGH), prolactin, and follicle stimulating hormone are among those released while sleeping. However, other hormones are influenced by sleep duration and quality. A University of California, San Diego study A University of California, San Diego study found that older men who reported lower quality sleep had lower testosterone levels.

  • Neurological Impacts

Deficits can quickly fuel cognitive problems as well. From a structural standpoint, insufficient sleep hinders the generation of nerve cells. When we don’t allow ourselves adequate time asleep, our short-term and working memory abilities are the first to suffer; however, even long-term memory takes a hit over time. Lack of sleep also raises your risk for depression and can worsen symptoms of existing psychiatric conditions.

  • Immunity Suppression

Our immune systems are more active during our sleeping than our waking hours. Without adequate shuteye, our immune functioning is compromised, and we’re more susceptible to infection. Furthermore, not enough rest leaves us more vulnerable to daily stresses and the negative impact they have on our immune system.

  • Cardiovascular Impairment

Perhaps most troubling are the impacts on the cardiovascular system. Inadequate sleep significantly raises your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. A University College Medical School study linked it to a higher mortality risk.

Age significantly figures into requirements. Babies and children require the most sleep (generally between 12-16 hours), and they can suffer many of the same physical consequences as adults without it. Over time, inadequate sleep can impair children’s long-term cognitive abilities as well as their mental health. Children who are deprived are more likely to show symptoms of ADD and depression. While individuals’ need varies somewhat, The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-8 hours for adults, including older adults, who many erroneously believe require less. A commitment to adequate sleep, with a mind toward consistency and quality, will dramatically serve our daily well being and overall health.

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