Did you know that sleep deprivation takes a heavy toll on your mind, body, and overall health? Chronic lack of sleep has been linked to colds and flu, diabetes, heart disease, mental health and even obesity.
Does getting adequate sleep protect you from illness? It may help.
Sleep is a quiescent period where your body’s cells are doing a lot of repair work. Your hormones act differently when you’re asleep, and your immune system as well. If your immune system is out of whack, you can’t fight off illness.
Here are five health problems that are worsened by lack of sleep - and may be improved by getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
- Colds and flu - you may have experienced feeling ‘worn down’ when you’re sleep-deprived, a clue that your body is vulnerable because your immune system is weakened. The less sleep you get, the weaker your immune system gets - so that it is less able to fight off colds, flu and other infections.
- Heart disease - former President Bill Clinton recently said that he thinks lack of sleep had a lot to do with his recent hospitalization to unblock a clogged artery - and he’s probably right. When you don’t get enough sleep, an inflammatory response takes place in your blood vessels. If your sleep deprivation continues long term, chronic inflammation sets in - which has been linked to a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
- Diabetes - insulin resistance is the underlying problem in type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, when you’re sleep deprived, your body’s sugar metabolism almost immediately changes to resemble insulin resistance in diabetes. In a study of young, healthy adult males whose sleep time was reduced to about four hours per night - after just six nights, every one of them was showing impaired glucose tolerance, a pre-condition to developing diabetes.
- Brain function and mental health - if you’re chronically sleep deprived, you may think you’re still driving safely and performing well at your job, but you’re more likely to be wrong. Studies have found that people who aren’t getting enough sleep drive just as unsafely as someone who’s drunk.
- Obesity - several studies point to a link between sleep deprivation and obesity in both adults and children. In one study, people who slept 5 hours per night were 73% more likely to become obese than those getting 7-9 hours of sleep. One study even found that lack of sleep was a bigger contributor to childhood obesity than any other factor.
The good news is that you can repair the damage from inadequate sleep fairly quickly. For example, the sleep-deprived young men in the diabetes study returned to a normal state of glucose tolerance after just a few nights of regular sleep.
So if you’ve had a rough week of work and socializing, make sure you get a few nights of good sleep to help your body recover.