Sleep is important for maintaining alertness, energy for daily duties, and health. If you’re one of the 37 percent of people who sleep fewer than 7 hours per night—or if the quality of your sleep is poor—you might be sleep-deprived. While some people need less sleep than others, studies show getting less sleep than you need may negatively affect your health.
Being sleep-deprived may lead to:
- Symptoms that resemble and feel like depression or anxiety. For example, you may have a poor mood, irritability, low energy, decreased libido, and poor judgment. The good news is these symptoms often disappear when normal sleep is restored.
- Decreased quality of life. You may cut back on activities you enjoy for lack of energy. Falling asleep at inappropriate times may be embarrassing in public. Having a different sleep schedule than your spouse may even cause marital problems.
- Increased appetite. Research shows the hormones that help regulate appetite are affected by a lack of sleep. This effect of increased appetite could lead to overeating. Over time, this may contribute to obesity, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- Decreased immune function. Some animal and human studies have shown that lack of sleep appears to lower white blood cell count, which is an indication of decreased immune function. This means you may be more susceptible to illnesses when you are sleep deprived.
- Increased risk of heart attack, angina and stroke. Some recent studies suggest that sleepless nights may increase your risk of heart attack, angina, and stroke. This could be related to research that shows people who sleep less have higher blood pressures and more atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries). The increased risk may also be related to sleep apnea, a series of pauses in breathing during sleep, which causes poor-quality sleep and stresses your cardiovascular system.
- Increased risk of accidents and death. Some studies suggest people who don’t get enough good-quality sleep have an increased risk of death. This may be due to decreased reaction time and increased accidents, particularly car accidents. It may also be related to the fact that being sleep-deprived contributes to serious cardiovascular risk factors (heart attack, angina, and stroke), which increase your risk of death.
Being sleep-deprived over time is not just an inconvenience. It can pose a serious health risk. And it’s a common problem in our fast-paced world. First, talk to your doctor about your sleep problems. There may be medical tests and treatments available that can help you sleep better. And in the meantime, take a look at your lifestyle for factors that may be contributing to the problem. Eat a balanced, heart-healthy diet, get or stay physically active, manage your stress level, and quit smoking if you’re a smoker. Also try these tips to improve your sleep.