Sleep and the problems arising from Sleep Deprivation

It is essential not to overlook or underestimate the importance of sleep. Plenty of nourishing good sleep is one of the secrets of a healthy mind and body. The benefits of sleep are many and ideally we should get seven to eight hours of sleep a day. Unfortunately few of us get the full amount we need to function at our best. It may be that we don’t even realise we are becoming sleep deprived as we have simply swapped some of our sleep hours for extra play or work time. 

Stress also plays a major role in sleep loss for a lot of people, especially during these worsening economic times. Who hasn’t lain awake worrying about the future!  Alternatively there may be medical conditions that disrupt our sleep, ones which we may be unaware we have, just putting our tiredness down to the kids or work, but if left unchecked the long-term damage to our health can be great.

So what are the likely consequences of sleep deprivation?

Short term effects of lack of sleep

In the short-term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect our judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. This will affect all areas of our lives and significantly reduce our performance of our daily tasks. One study showed losing  just ninety minutes of sleep a night can impair our level of alertness by up to 33%. 

Such a reduction in alertness and subsequent reduction in physical and mental performance has implications not just for ourselves but also those around us. Just think how many automobile fatalities alone could be saved if we all got a good nights sleep. There are also numerous instances of major industrial tragedies which have on investigation been found to result from the over-tiredness of workers. For example, investigators found sleep deprivation played a significant part in the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, as well as the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. In addition investigations into the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, as well as the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, concluded that sleep deprivation also played a critical role in these accidents. As in both instances those in charge of the operations and required to make critical decisions had been suffering from extreme sleep deprivation.

In addition to having  potentially disastrous consequences for the human race, depending upon our jobs, our personal lives are also likely to suffer.  Tiredness will cause us to be less understanding  with our partners and children. Partners are also likely to suffer from disrupted sleep as we toss and turn for hours during the night. 

Long term effects of lack of sleep. 

Sleep deprivation over a period of time has been shown to lead to the following health problems:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Psychiatric problems such as depression and other mood disorders
  • Mental impairment
  • Increased mortality risk
  • Loss of libido
  • Obesity – (The link between obesity and sleep is an interesting one as lack of sleep can cause weight gain by increasing hunger and affecting metabolism and in turn extra weight can cause sleep disorders such as apnea which in itself causes sleep deprivation.)

It is important to try to get enough sleep and develop a regular healthy sleeping pattern. If you think you may have a sleep disorder you should seek medical advice before it becomes a serious problem.