Sleep is your body’s thermostat that keeps it from getting excessively exhausted. Understandably, deprivation of sleep, or even its poor quality can damage your health significantly. However, until recently, the sleep impact on health has largely remained an overlooked problem.
The capability of sleep deprivation to cause health problems is far bigger than the current perception of our society. Of course, the causes can vary from sleep apnea to horrendous work conditions, but the outcome is the same.
What This Article Is All About?
According to a survey conducted by the Australian Sleep Health Foundation in 2016-2017, 48.8% of adults in Australia reported poor sleep duration or quality. The findings also suggested that sleep disorders have put a significant fiscal burden (approximately $66 billion) on the Australian health system.
These figures alone are sufficient to prove that the scale of the impact of sleep disorders on health and society is massive. This calls for radical steps to be taken to ensure awareness and accessibility of treatment.
What Does Science Say About Sleep Impact on Health?
The sleep impact on health is sufficiently documented and science proclaims that its deprivation is devastating for the human body.
One study precisely classifies these effects in short-term and long-term categories.
|Short-term side-effects of sleep deprivation
|Long-term side-effects of sleep deprivation
|– Increased stress levels
– Somatic pain (pain from the skin and deeper tissues)
– Mood disorders
– Reduced cognition
– Poor work performance
– Behavioral problems
|– Elevated blood pressure
– High cholesterol levels
– Diabetes type 2
– Colorectal cancer
– Weak immunity
– Depression and anxiety
– Diminished libido
The Physical Aspect of Sleep Impact on Health
While you sleep, your body goes into a reset mode – not just metaphorically but also practically. Your sleep has two main stages:
- REM (rapid eye movement) sleep
- Non-REM sleep
In both these stages, physiological alterations occur in blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tone, and secretion of various hormones. These physical changes trigger a cascade of events that play a positive role in your bodily functions. Therefore, a healthy body needs a healthy sleep.
Some of the positive roles played by sleep in maintaining your physical well-being are as follows:
#1 It Prevents Fatigue
This physical effect of sleep is one that probably everyone can relate to. As your body requires adequate rest to keep up with the daily demand, poor or no sleep can interfere with that.
Imagine you sleep for 8 to 10 hours but still stay tired the whole day. That is chronic fatigue syndrome inflicted on you due to prolonged sleep troubles. It is often reported in workers with double shifts schedule.
The research also suggests an incidence of fibromyalgia- a disease with excruciating pain- co-existing with chronic fatigue syndrome. It tends to make people indisposed and not being able to carry out routine life chores. Therefore, better sleep can help you stay fresh and perform healthier in life.
#2 It Boosts Your Immunity
The human immune system is your body’s defense force against the diseases. The troops of this force range from white blood cells to inflammatory markers.
Inflammatory markers are chemical substances that kill invading bacteria and viruses. Sleep has a major role in amplifying their production. One such group is cytokines and research suggests that sleep boosts the activity of cytokines and strengthens your immunity.
White blood cells also fight diseases in your body. Mast cells are a special type of white blood cells that release histamine and other chemicals. These are also like cytokines and ward off invading pathogens.
One example is the fact that if you sleep adequately, you are three times less likely to have a common cold.
Have you ever imagined that your body’s whole defense against diseases could be dependent on sleeping well? That’s why it is said that sleep impact on health is bigger than you think!
So, need a flu shot? Sleep on it, literally.
#3 It Protects You From Heart Diseases
During sleep, your nervous system goes through many physiological changes that result in relaxation. On the contrary, a lack of sleep activates the sympathetic nervous system. This system prepares you to fight stressful situations.
Have you felt your heart rate rising and body sweating when you are in a fight? That’s your sympathetic nervous system pushing you into a ‘fight or flight’ mode.
It also elevates your blood pressure along with the other stuff. If it happens often, your body experiences a permanent change and hardwires to have high blood pressure.
It also puts a significant load on your heart because the sympathetic nervous system stimulation pushes your heart into working overtime.
The research suggests that both these changes eventually lead to a weak heart and a faulty cardiovascular system.
Since sleep deficiency inflicts sympathetic overdrive on you often, your cardiovascular system faces the burnt. This leads to permanent damage to the heart and its vessels. To prevent this vascular chaos, you need to sleep at least 8 hours a day.
#4 It Reduces Your Risk of Diabetes
Sleep can protect you from diabetes type 2. Although diabetes is a multifactorial disease and many other things play a role in its onset, sleep can lower the risk.
When your body is in stress, it releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone reduces the capacity of your body cells to sense insulin – a natural glucose sensor in your body. No insulin means no glucose control and that is what diabetes type 2 is.
The problem is that lack of sleep increases the quantity of cortisol in the body, thereby increasing the chances of having diabetes type 2.
So, in reality, it’s a choice between having lifetime insulin shots and getting a beauty sleep!
#5 It improves Your Libido
Believe it or not, sleep can improve your sex life.
The research suggests that males suffering from sleep apnea have lower testosterone levels in their bodies. Men are also more likely to suffer from sleep troubles and eventually may experience low libido.
So, to crack a fat and have gratifying sexual chemistry with your partner, you need to sleep adequately.
The Mental Aspect of Sleep Impact on Health
Sleep is crucial for your brain to function properly. Name a brain problem and your sleep pattern will have a role in it.
The brain is affected in two ways:
#1 Neuronal Degeneration
A lack of good quality sleep excites your neurons by activating the sympathetic nervous system, firing messages across your nerves. This induces irritability and anxiety.
If this state goes on for a long time, neurons in your brains get hardwired to this stimulation and lead to permanent brain changes. It also accelerates dementia (memory loss). Some other outcomes of neuronal degeneration are:
- Dull reflexes
- Poor memory
- Reduced cognition
- Volatile attention span
- Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
#2 Chemical Imbalances
Your brain runs the coordination of your body by a chemical system. These substances are called neurotransmitters and, along with neurons, they are responsible for proper brain functioning.
Some of them include:
Their imbalance can disturb the chemistry of your brain and lead to many psychological issues.
Depression is one of the most common psychiatric conditions. It reduces the levels of “happy chemicals” in your body and results in a debilitating life.
Obstructive sleep apnea is often a cause of depression in Australians. It can manifest as:
- Lack of motivation
- Crying spells
- Lack of appetite
- Excessive sleepiness
- Exaggerated pain perception
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, checking your sleep pattern would be a good place to start.
Sleep Deprivation – A ‘plump’ Issue
This whole conundrum can be explained in one small sentence: Sleep deficiency makes you fat!
The research suggests that both the quality and quantity of sleep affect your weight. Many trainers in Australia are now convinced that weight loss programs should have an organized sleep schedule integrated into them. They argue that no matter how much effort you put in cutting back junk food; if you are not getting enough sleep, your weight will keep on increasing.
Leptin is a hormone that gives you a feeling of fullness while eating. It acts as an appetite suppressant.
Ghrelin is a hormone that increases your appetite.
When you are hungry, your body has more ghrelin and less leptin. While eating, these levels alter and become the opposite. Once the leptin levels are high, you feel full. This limits your caloric consumption.
The notion of the leptin-ghrelin mechanism is that a lack of sleep disturbs these levels and increases your hunger. Your caloric consumption loses its checkpoint (due to persistent low leptin levels); you eat insatiably and gain weight.
Obesity is associated with the aggravation of sleep troubles. People with BMI in the overweight range are prone to obstructive sleep apnea. Resultantly, their quality and duration of sleep decrease further and this cycle continues.
The only way to break this cycle is to keep your sleep healthy.
The Social Aspect of Poor Quality Sleep
Healthy sleep prevents social withdrawal and makes you a happy individual.
One study suggests that social isolation increases the chances of morbidity more than obesity.
This is particularly worrisome because with time, the world is becoming excessively fast-paced. This has reduced sleeping hours for adults and made them social outcasts.
The scientists argue that sleep has a vital role in the maintenance of healthy social lives. So, if you miss having friends or feel alone, your sleep deficit might be the culprit.
- Sleep disrupts work performance and may lead to unemployment, causing loss of social life
- Sleep makes you irritable and least pleasant person to talk to
- Sleep reduces your motivation to initiate a social interaction
- Depression and anxiety related to sleep troubles can cause social withdrawal
These are just a few highlights of a deep-rooted problem. The emotional distress experienced by insomniacs often takes a toll on their physical and mental health. Both these damage social status and result in loneliness and people end up becoming a pariah.
Is There Any Way Out of This?
Yes, sleep problems can be managed easily.
Considering the extensive effects of sleep on social, mental, and physical health, it needs to be addressed.
So, first, you need to identify the cause of your sleep troubles. These questions can help you navigate the reason.
- Do you sleep eight hours a day?
- Do you wake up multiple times during the night?
- Do you snore or have sleep apnea?
- Does anyone else in your family suffer from sleep troubles?
- Does the onset of sleep take hours for you?
- Do you feel tired all day despite sleeping adequately?
Once you have identifies the problem, you can cure it accordingly.
- Alter your diet
- Manage your sleep apnea
- See a sleep specialist
- Practice sleep hygiene
These small changes can bring a huge bearing on your daily life.
The Final Verdict
Who knew being a workaholic could drown you into health bills instead of paying for your luxury lifestyle? But it does and the reason is lack of sleep.
The sleep impact on health is massive. It damages you physically, socially, and mentally. Therefore, it is imperative to find a therapeutic option so that the collective health of Australian society can be saved from these dilemmas.
Dr. Muhammad Usman is a Doctor, Nutritionist, Wellness Coach and a Researcher with a deep insight into all aspects of writing related to health and science.