Not surprisingly, sleep deprivation can be life threatening in more ways than one. We've all had sleepless nights at one time or another and for most, the next day was dreadful.
"Sleep deprivation is the single most dangerous aspect of any sleep disorder, because you have no idea that you are compromised cognitively, physically and emotionally," says sleep expert Michael Breus.
One of the most severe reasons lack of sleep can be deadly, is in reaction times during driving, operating heavy equipment, or any other operation where dulled senses can cause slower reaction times, and lead to accidents. Recent research has found drowsy driving to be just as risky as drunk driving.
Sleep deprived people can experience memory retention problems and processing information lacking, as well as trouble with important decision making tasks. "It's easy to miss a fine detail when sleep-deprived," explains Breus. "We often don't put information together correctly."
And critical thinking and reaction time are not all that are affected by those lost hours of sleep. Emotions, good or bad, are also heightened by lack of quality sleep, says Breus. So when fighting with a child or spouse, anger and sadness to frustration can become much more intensified, carrying conflicts much further than necessary, and making an otherwise sensible and peaceful existence full of drama.
When it comes to health, recent data suggest that people who sleep less than four hours are 73 percent more likely to be obese. Yes, those sleep-deprived people tend to eat more to find an alternative to comforting sleep. Science though, has shown that insufficient sleep is associated with decreased hormone levels of leptin and ghrelin. These hormones are responsible for telling our brain that it has enough food.
And worse, sleep deprivation has been known to have an effect on the body's sensitivity to insulin. A study from the University of Chicago revealed that with less than optimal sleep, the body needed more insulin to dispose of the glucose; the insulin secretion did not increase. This action is what increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes.
According to data from Harvard University's Nurse Health Study, participants who slept for five to six hours were at a greater risk for cardiac disease. Lack of sleep is linked to an increase in cortisol - the stress hormone. When this hormone rises, it can cause an increase in blood pressure after a short sleep period, and is also attributed to sudden cardiac events, such as a heart attack.
And that isn't the worst of it - lack of sleep also raises your chances of getting certain types of cancer. During sleep your body produces melatonin, a hormone that is important in cleaning up free radicals in the body, so it is safe to say that the decrease in melatonin could decrease the body's ability to fight cancer.
Each body is different in its requirement for sleep, some people can function and feel great on six hours, and others need at least eight. Knowing where you are at your best is determined by how you feel when you wake. If you feel rested and ready to hit the shower, the gym or work, chances are you've had enough sleep for the night.
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