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What Are The Negative Health Effects Of Sleep Deprivation?

Last updated Nov. 8, 2016

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

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Sleep is an essential component of our daily life. Lack of sleep can increase your risk of diseases and disorders such as heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep is an essential component of our daily life. Every known organism has some form of a sleep mode. According to the National Sleep Foundation, an average human adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep every night. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that nearly 70 million Americans have some form of long-lasting sleep problems. In addition, the World Health Organization concluded in 2011 that Americans lose about $63 billion every year from lack of work productivity due to sleep deprivation. 

Sleep disorders and long-term sleep losses can increase the risk of diseases and disorders such as heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure or hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. British researchers in the “Whitehall II Study” investigated the sleeping patterns and death rate of 10,000 civil servants for over 20 years. They found that the civil servants, who slept only five or fewer hours each night, doubled the risk of death from all causes. The risk of death from cardiovascular disease especially doubled.

Studies have found that other effects of lack of sleep can include increases in an individual’s blood pressure; even a half night loss of sleep can increase blood pressure in individuals with hypertension. Also, inadequate and short sleep can cause an individual to eat larger portions of food due to the hormonal change. A review suggested that six hours of sleep or less can ramp-up the production of the hunger hormone ‘ghrelin’ and limit the production of ‘leptin’, a hormone involved in stomach emptying and creating a feeling of fullness. This causes individuals to eat more and puts them at higher risk for obesity.

Sleep loss has also been linked to an increased risk for diabetes. Insulin is the hormone that is responsible for promoting the absorption of sugar from the blood to the muscles and other body tissues. A study, published in the journal Sleep, suggested that sleep loss is associated with higher insulin resistance. Another study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, suggested that even with calorie restriction and diet drink intake, sleep loss led to insulin resistance in the body. In turn, insulin resistance can increase the risk of diabetes.

Lack of sleep can lead to many brain diseases as well. A study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found evidence that sleep loss can cause irreversible brain damage. After just three days of sleep deprivation, the mice in the experiment had a 25% loss of locus ceruleus (LC) neurons, which play an important role in keeping individuals alert and awake. Another study suggests that deep sleep is important for the clearance of metabolic waste products in the brain. Sleep deprivation or lack of sleep could lead to the accumulation of toxins that may cause conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Not only can sleep deprivation cause negative, unwanted effects inside the body, but it can also cause undesirable physical effects. For people who care about their physical looks, sleep deprivation can age the skin faster. Some physical effects of sleep deprivation can include dull skin, fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes. Even a few nights of sleep deprivation can lead to sickly-looking skin and puffy eyes, which may affect one’s personality. In summation, sleep loss can quite literally be fatal. Short sleepers are at risk of dying younger than individuals who sleep about 7-8 hours a night. It is always advisable to get away or turn off any electronic devices an hour before one plans to sleep. This will prepare the body for sleep. Wearing blindfolds and/or earplugs may ensure that no light or noise interrupts one’s sleep.

Additional Resources:

Cappuccio, F. P., Stranges, S., Kandala, N. B., Miller, M. A., Taggart, F. M., Kumari, M., ... & Marmot, M. G. (2007). Gender-specific associations of short sleep duration with prevalent and incident hypertension the Whitehall II study. Hypertension, 50(4), 693-700.

Fujikawa, T., Tochikubo, O., Kura, N., & Umemura, S. (2009). Factors related to elevated 24-h blood pressure in young adults. Clinical and Experimental Hypertension, 31(8), 705-712.

Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P. A., Coulouvrat, C., Hajak, G., Roth, T., Shahly, V., ... & Walsh, J. K. (2011). Insomnia and the performance of US workers: results from the America insomnia survey. Sleep, 34(9), 1161.

Klok, M. D., Jakobsdottir, S., & Drent, M. L. (2007). The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obesity reviews, 8(1), 21-34.

Lusardi, P., Mugellini, A., Preti, P., Zoppi, A., Derosa, G., & Fogari, R. (1996). Effects of a restricted sleep regimen on ambulatory blood pressure monitoring in normotensive subjects. American journal of hypertension, 9(5), 503-505.

Matthews, K. A., Dahl, R. E., Owens, J. F., Lee, L., & Hall, M. (2012). Sleep duration and insulin resistance in healthy black and white adolescents. Sleep, 35(10), 1353-1358.

Sleep and Sleep Disorders. (2013, July 1). Retrieved December 2, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_us.htm

Xie, L., Kang, H., Xu, Q., Chen, M. J., Liao, Y., Thiyagarajan, M., ... & Nedergaard, M. (2013). Sleep drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain. Science, 342(6156), 373-377.

Pasch, K. E., Laska, M. N., Lytle, L. A., & Moe, S. G. (2010). Adolescent sleep, risk behaviors, and depressive symptoms: are they linked?. American journal of health behavior, 34(2), 237.

Patel, S. R., & Hu, F. B. (2008). Short sleep duration and weight gain: a systematic review. Obesity, 16(3), 643-653.

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Roberts, R. E., Roberts, C. R., & Duong, H. T. (2009). Sleepless in adolescence: prospective data on sleep deprivation, health and functioning.Journal of adolescence, 32(5), 1045-1057.

Lockley, S. W., Barger, L. K., Ayas, N. T., Rothschild, J. M., Czeisler, C. A., & Landrigan, C. P. (2007). Effects of health care provider work hours and sleep deprivation on safety and performance. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, 33(Supplement 1), 7-18.

Baldwin Jr, D. C., & Daugherty, S. R. (2004). Sleep deprivation and fatigue in residency training: results of a national survey of first-and second-year residents. Sleep, 27(2), 217-223.

Gottlieb, D. J., Redline, S., Nieto, F. J., Baldwin, C. M., Newman, A. B., Resnick, H. E., & Punjabi, N. M. (2006). Association of usual sleep duration with hypertension: the Sleep Heart Health Study. SLEEP-NEW YORK THEN WESTCHESTER-, 29(8), 1009.

Gangwisch, J. E., Heymsfield, S. B., Boden-Albala, B., Buijs, R. M., Kreier, F., Pickering, T. G., ... & Malaspina, D. (2006). Short sleep duration as a risk factor for hypertension analyses of the first national health and nutrition examination survey. hypertension, 47(5), 833-839.

Van Dongen, H. P., Maislin, G., Mullington, J. M., & Dinges, D. F. (2003). The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: dose-response effects on neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. SLEEP-NEW YORK THEN WESTCHESTER-,26(2), 117-129.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Nov. 8, 2016
Last updated: Nov. 8, 2016