It’s estimated that 50 million to 70 million American adults have some type of sleep disorder, meaning that virtually everywhere you go, there are a bunch of sleep-deprived individuals trying to get through the day. If you’re one of these drowsy people consuming copious amounts of caffeine just so you can keep your eyes open during a meeting, or while you’re driving, you could be in serious trouble.
Dr. Cecil Yeung, an expert ear, nose, and throat, and sleep disorder physician, at Houston Sinus Surgery in Houston, explains how lack of sleep can affect your overall health — probably in ways you never even realized. Take a moment to learn how chronic sleep issues may be negatively impacting your well-being.
Sleep deprivation drains mental capacity, risks physical health
Sleep deprivation is the result of regularly not getting enough sleep, which keeps your body from recovering physically and mentally from your day. Without adequate slumber, your brain and body have a hard time functioning normally. During a restful sleep, your brain creates new neurological connections that help with memory, and your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance.
When you don’t allow time for these systems to restore, virtually all your physiological systems stop functioning optimally, and it can seriously affect the quality of your life. Whether you’re not allowing yourself enough time to get adequate shut-eye, or you have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from sleeping restfully, you experience symptoms such as:
- Daytime drowsiness
- Easily falling asleep within five minutes of your head hitting the pillow
- Nodding off while sitting at the table during meals or a work meeting (episodes of microsleep)
- Trouble thinking and concentrating
- Difficulty remembering things
- Moodiness and emotional issues
- High blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Excessive yawning
- Low sex drive
Chronic sleep deprivation can also put you at a higher risk of developing health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. And, it can make you more prone to accidents as a result of poor coordination and balance, or contribute to car accidents, since your mind isn’t as alert when you’re behind the wheel, driving tired.
Research also indicates that if you sleep less than 6-8 hours each night, it can literally take years off your life by increasing your risk of early death by 12%.
Lack of sleep compromises your immune system
Chronic sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from producing enough infection-fighting cytokines. These substances combat bacteria and viruses, so when you don’t get enough sleep, you may be sick more often or it may take you longer to recover from an illness. Additionally, it’s easier to develop chronic illnesses like diabetes or heart disease when your immune system can’t keep up with your physical needs.
Lack of sleep negatively affects your digestive system
Wondering why you can’t lose weight or you tend to eat too much at meals? Lack of sleep affects the hormones that control hunger and feelings of fullness. These hormones, leptin and ghrelin, tell your brain when you’ve had enough to eat. But, when you don’t get enough sleep, your brain produces less of these hormones, so you eat more or snack late at night.
On top of producing less leptin and ghrelin, your body produces more insulin than you need after you eat. Higher insulin levels promote the storage of fat and increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. To make matters worse, chronically sleep-deprived adults are usually too tired to exercise, exacerbating your inability to lose weight.
Interrupted sleep often leads to lower hormone production
Your body’s hormone production depends on uninterrupted sleep. When you wake up repeatedly through the night, as is often the case for those who suffer from sleep disorders like sleep apnea, your body may not be able to produce a sufficient amount of hormones, including testosterone. As a man who doesn’t get enough sleep, you may notice a resulting decrease in your sex drive.
You really do need your beauty sleep
If you feel like you’re looking older than you should and you suffer from a chronic sleep disorder, you may be prematurely developing wrinkles and sagging skin. Your body produces more cortisol (a stress hormone) when you’re sleep deprived, which breaks down collagen — an element that’s essential for keeping your skin firm and smooth. See? There’s truth to the notion that you need your beauty sleep.
Dr. Yeung is an expert at diagnosing and treating sleep disorders, so if you’re struggling to stay awake (even as you read this!) give our friendly office staff a call or schedule an appointment using the online system.