“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” is a line from the song of the same name by Bon Jovi. It’s rather indicative of how modern life has affected the daily pace in today’s society. Women, in particular, have taken on the extra load while trying to balance home life along with their career. Sleep becomes a distant luxury when work and family demands begin to stack up. Sleep schedules become both fragmented and well below the amount needed for the body to restore itself.
Society as a whole has resolved to function on minimal sleep, some with as little as five hours per night. It may surprise you to know that anything less than seven hours of sleep per night is considered sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation occurs when, either intentionally due to a work schedule or unintentionally due to an undiagnosed sleep condition, a person gets less than seven hours of sleep over a long period of time. Chronic sleep deprivation is responsible for many health conditions that affect an individual’s overall wellness, including; a compromised immune system, increased mental health conditions, a decrease in cognitive functioning and performance, and a breakdown of functioning in some of our body’s most vital systems. Not enough sleep is literally killing us.
In an effort to understand more about chronic sleep deprivation, large population studies have been done on shift workers because this tends to be the most chronically sleep deprived group of individuals. In a study performed by the World Health Organization (WHO), they concluded that shift work is a “probable carcinogen” because the lack of sleep in this group greatly increases their risk for cancer. It was also seen in this group of individuals that there is an increased incidence of infection when they do get exposed to an antigen, whether it be viral or bacterial.
Additional studies have shown that sleep loss greatly reduces our host defenses. Host defenses are the parts of the body that protect against infection. These include the natural barriers (eg, skin, mucous membranes), nonspecific immune responses (eg, cells that eat the bad cells), and specific immune responses (eg, antibodies). The host defense system is the part of our immune system that is hard-wired in us. It contains all the immune cells that help us to fight the infection once we have it. When sleep deprivation occurs, immune cells are all reduced. The primary reason for this is that sleep loss induces inflammation in the body, which triggers the host response. While the host defenses are busy fighting inflammation, it reduces the body’s ability to fight against the antigens we come into contact with, leaving us more vulnerable and open to sickness and infection. This is why we are more likely to get sick when we are feeling “run down.”
Sleep deprivation can also decrease cognitive effects of the brain. Over time, sleep deprivation can lead to an inability to concentrate, difficulty learning, and will result in varying levels of memory loss. The scary part of all of this is? People are generally not aware how compromised their performance has become. They adjust to this lowered cognition and it simply becomes their new normal. The performance effects of sleep deprivation is surprisingly similar to alcohol intoxication. Performance impairment after 17 hours of being awake is similar to that of a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .05%. The legal limit in most states is .08%. It is estimated that 7% of all motor vehicle crashes, and 16% of fatal crashes involve drowsy drivers. Not only are you compromising yourself and your family when you’re exhausted, but your impaired state may impact others around you just as a drunk driver does. Being awake is simply not the same as being alert.
Sleep deprivation can also impact our emotional well being. Psychiatrists once believed that sleep disorders, like insomnia, were a symptom of mental health disorders like anxiety. However, it has come to light that sleep deprivation not only contributes to the rise of mental health disorders, but it may be the cause of some.While the relationship between sleep and mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder, are not yet completely understood, studies do suggest that healthy sleep habits create a strong sense of emotional resilience. While conversely, chronic sleep deprivation places an individual on a crash course for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.
Adding insult to injury here, chronic sleeplessness can add to an increased incidence of chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimers, stroke, heart disease, infertility, and obesity. Lack of sleep affects how the body processes glucose, for example, which affects how it metabolizes sugar. Over time, this can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, there is evidence that sleep deprivation has an effect on metabolic changes in the body that can lead to weight gain and obesity. Lastly, sleep deprivation can cause hypertension and increase the risk for heart disease. These are all very serious conditions that can lead to irreversible damage to the body.
If you are giving yourself plenty of time to get a full night sleep and you still feel fatigued and sleepy, you could be suffering from an undiagnosed sleep disorder! Remember, sleep disorders affect men, women, and children, no one is left out of this equation. If you feel this may be you, it’s important to take it very seriously and get a proper clinical sleep evaluation! Call our office today to schedule your appointment or schedule a virtual appointment so we can get you on the road to health and wellness.