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July 31, 2013

The long-term effects of sleep deprivation

Long-term Effects of Sleep Deprivation

The long-term effects of sleep deprivation can pose health problems on a larger scale than short-term sleep loss side effects, which we discussed in our last blog post.

To begin with — how can you tell if you’re suffering from long-term sleep deprivation? There are a number of symptoms you should be aware of, but one of the starting points is whether or not you snore at night.

“When you snore, that means there is airway obstruction,” said Dr. Gonzalo Diaz, medical director for the El Paso Sleep Center, in a recent interview with the El Paso Times.1 “Nobody should snore. If you snore, it’s definitely abnormal. Studies show if you snore, you have a higher chance to have high blood pressure and a higher chance to have a stroke.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elaborates on those conditions: “Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.”2

That’s a pretty intimidating list of serious health conditions linked to something that seems relatively harmless. After all, who doesn’t occasionally miss a little sleep? Of course, thinking sleep deprivation is harmless is one of the reasons it’s such a widespread health concern. Here’s a brief overview of some of the more serious physical effects of sleep deprivation.

Obesity. You might think that spending more time awake might mean burning more calories, but according to research findings shared by The New York Times, “people who sleep less tend to weigh more. After adjusting the data for all sorts of potentially confounding factors, researchers who studied 990 employed adults in rural Iowa found that the less sleep they received on weeknights, the higher their body mass index” — a finding that was consistent “in children as well as adults.”3

Diabetes. Long-term sleep deprivation can raise blood sugar levels and impair the ability of your body to respond to insulin, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (as reported by Health.com).4 Lack of sleep can also cause people to make bad choices in the food they consume, particularly in the morning, as we reported in our previous blog entry.

Stroke. “We speculate that short sleep duration is a precursor to other traditional stroke risk factors, and once these traditional stroke risk factors are present, then perhaps they become stronger risk factors than sleep duration alone,” said Megan Ruiter, author of a major sleep study on the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, as quoted in the New York Daily News.5

High blood pressure and heart disease. A study that spanned 25 years found that long-term sleep deprivation can alter the body’s chemicals and hormones in a way that increases the risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and related conditions. A professor who led the study said that sleeping less than six hours per night puts you at “48% greater chance of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15% greater chance of developing or dying from a stroke,” according to a 2011 report from The Guardian. The article also described a lifestyle of “late nights and early mornings” as “a ticking time bomb.”6

Cancer. In 2008, the British Journal of Cancer published a study that found women “who slept fewer than six hours a night were more likely [to] develop breast cancer,” reported ABC News’ Katie Moisse.7 That same article also noted that a study published in the journal Cancer in 2010 “found those who slept fewer than six hours a night were more likely to have colorectal polyps, which can lead to colon cancer.”

Have you or a loved one experienced any serious long-term effects of sleep deprivation, or any physical effects of sleep deprivation? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.