Have you ever noticed that when you get on a plane, regardless of what time of day it is, about half the plane is immediately asleep? That’s because almost one out of every two people is getting six or less hours of sleep a night. Regardless of how you feel after only six hours or less of sleep, neuroscience now shows the effects of sleep deprivation extend well beyond feeling tired.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Adequate sleep time may be affecting our health more significantly than we think. According to Matthew Walker, a sleep scientists, you should be getting 8 or more hours of sleep per night. If you’re not, you are sleep deprived.
Walker takes sleep very seriously. He is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams. During 20+ years of research, he’s discovered just what happens when we don’t sleep enough. He discussed some of these consequences in an interview with The Guardian. The most important effects of sleep deprivation are highlighted below.
1. The Link to Cancer
Walker and the global health community is pretty clear that a link between lack of sleep and cancer exists. Walker explains:
Once you know that after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep, your natural killer cells – the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day – drop by 70%, or that a lack of sleep is linked to cancer of the bowel, prostate and breast, or even just that the World Health Organisation has classed any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen, how could you do anything else?
2. Shortened Life Expectancy
When you sleep less, you shorten your life expectancy, because lack of sleep can significantly increase blood pressure. One study evaluated people aged 45 years or older. One control group slept less than six hours a night. It was compared to another group with participants sleeping 7 or 8 hours per night. The study found that individuals getting less sleep are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime.
3. State of Hyperglycemia
Lack of sleep can cause a prediabetic state of hyperglycemia. With insufficient sleep, the body is less capable of controlling blood sugar levels.
4. Susceptibility to Weight Gain
Furthermore, people that sleep less are more susceptible to weight gain. This occurs because inadequate sleep affects hormone levels, favoring the hunger-signaling hormone, ghrelin. Walker believes, “processed food and sedentary lifestyles do not adequately explain [obesity’s] rise. Something is missing. It’s now clear that sleep is that third ingredient.”
5. Weakened Immune System
When you reduce your sleep, your resilience to pathogens decreases. That is why you are more likely to catch a cold or flu when you are tired.
6. Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s
Finally, getting too little sleep over a longer period of your life increases your chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Walker’s research has revealed that a toxic protein accumulates in the brain when you are not getting sufficient sleep. During deep sleep, these deposits are cleaned away. Without it, this protein forms a plaque build-up and degrades surrounding cells. This accumulation is common in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Why are We So Sleep Deprived?
Humans are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent reason. ~ Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California
Science has revealed some alarming patterns when it comes to sleep deprivation. According to Walker, sleep deprivation has become a global epidemic. Society diminishes the value of sleep, making napping inaccessible and labelling people who like to sleep in as lazy.
Furthermore, lifestyles have changed to where time with family, entertainment, and work trump sleep. Habits such as excessive screen time, alcohol and tobacco consumption, and even telecommuting during late evening hours all play a role in diminishing our sleep hours. Unfortunately, all of these habits are also detrimental to getting quality sleep.
Finally, consider how we’ve “electrified” the world. No matter where you are, there are night lights, street lights, and electrical device lights always on, no matter what time of night it is. In addition, we are continuously affected by electromagnetic radiation from electronics, wireless and cellular networks, smart meters, etc.
Considering all of these factors, it’s no surprise that we are sleep deprived. You really have to make a commitment if you want to get quality sleep. Fortunately, scientists such as Walker continue to reveal the effects of sleep deprivation. I know I’m more motivated to get my 8 hours each night. Are you?
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