Sleep matters for your mental and physical health and well-being. During sleep you slip into unconsciousness, yet things are still happening at a cellular and tissue level that affect your health once you wake up. Despite its importance, most people don’t prioritize sleep and don’t get enough of it.
Research finds that the average person needs between 7 and 8 hours of quality sleep per night. Are you getting that amount? If not, there are some compelling reasons to start. Here are five ways poor sleep habits and lack of sleep can affect your health.
Boost the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Research shows that people who skimp on sleep have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke relative to those who sleep at least 7 hours per night. One reason may be that lack of sleep boosts the activity of the sympathetic, or “fight or flight”, nervous system. It’s this component of the nervous system that increases your heart rate and blood pressure when you’re in a stressful situation.
Lack of sleep also disrupts blood sugar control and, if prolonged, can trigger inflammation, all of which are bad for the health of your heart and blood vessels.
Changes in Immune Function
Getting enough sleep is also vital for immune health too. You’re exposed to bacteria and viruses all the time, and a healthy immune system helps reduce the odds of falling ill. Research shows that people who don’t sleep enough or have poor quality sleep are more likely to develop illness when exposed to a virus.
Lack of sleep suppresses key components of the immune system, including antibody levels and the ability of cellular immunity to fight off viruses. Your body has fewer resources to fight off pathogens, like viruses and bacteria, when you’re not getting enough quality shut-eye.
Skimping on sleep doesn’t just increase the risk of health problems; it can expand your waistline too. Lack of sleep increases levels of a hormone called ghrelin that boosts appetite and the desire to eat sugary foods. It also lowers an appetite-suppressing hormone called leptin that helps you feel full.
This imbalance in hormones can cause you to eat and snack more when you haven’t slept enough. Research shows that sleeping less than 7 hours per night is a strong risk factor for weight gain and obesity.
Reduced Productivity and Motivation
Reduced productivity should be an obvious one. When you’re tired and sleep-deprived, you can’t function at your best mentally or be as productive. Even if you drink a few cups of coffee, you’re running on “borrowed” energy. Plus, being deprived of sleep reduces your ability to react quickly. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that getting too little sleep increases the risk of car accidents too.
One study found that people who had slept less than seven hours were at increased risk of being in a car accident, and the threat is even higher in those who slept less than four hours. Even for people who don’t fall asleep behind the wheel, they tend to make more driving mistakes when sleep-deprived that place them at risk of injury,
Worse Blood Sugar Control
Lack of sleep reduces insulin sensitivity and makes it harder to maintain a healthy glucose level. In fact, studies show that lack of sleep increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Getting enough sleep is especially important if you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. In fact, right after diet and exercise, getting enough sleep is the most important factor for maintaining a healthy blood glucose level.
The Bottom Line
Sleep is important! It’s easy to forget that when you have too many things to do, but lack of it can come back to haunt you with health problems and weight gain. Plus, you’re more productive when you get at least seven hours of sleep per night.
If you find yourself waking up frequently during the night or are a chronic snorer, talk to your physician. Problems like sleep apnea reduce sleep quality and can have serious health consequences if you don’t treat them. Don’t neglect sleep! It’s too important for your health.