The majority of Americans are short on sleep. Whether sleep deprivation is due to a single night of short or poor sleep, or to chronically low sleep, it can make you feel tired and cranky, raise risk for diabetes and other health conditions, and lead to vehicle and other accidents. These are some of the effects of being short on sleep.
High Blood Sugar
Lack of sleep directly affects blood sugar and, not surprisingly, raises risk for type 2 diabetes. Inadequate sleep raises blood sugar levels in a few ways. First, it increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases blood sugar. In addition, sleep deprivation raises insulin resistance, so it is harder for the body to lower blood sugar after a meal. In addition, research has shown that lack of sleep leads to impaired glucose tolerance – in other words, high blood sugar.
Impaired Energy and Alertness
You are almost sure to know firsthand how sleep deprivation feels. You may have reduced energy, which makes getting through the day harder and often less enjoyable. Your ability to focus diminishes, and you may find yourself nodding off. Concentrating and remembering were the top two daily activities that people reported having trouble with due to lack of sleep, according to the CDC.
Be honest, now: last time you were short on sleep, how well did you focus during your afternoon meeting? Did you remember much of it afterwards? And, did you have to fight the urge to nod off during it?
Unintentional Weight Gain
Intuitively, it might make sense that sleeping less would help with weight loss, since you would be spending less time lying in bed and more time up and about, presumably burning more calories. That is not the case. Here are some ways that sleep deprivation can increase risk for weight gain, as described by the Harvard School of Public Health and a review article in the journal, “Obesity (Silver Spring).”
- More hunger: You may have higher levels of ghrelin, which is a hormone that increases hunger, and lower levels of leptin, which is a hormone that lets you know that you are satisfied.
- More time to eat: You might burn a few more calories during those late-night hours while awake compared to if you were sleeping, but having even a few extra peanuts is likely to outweigh the extra calorie burn. Regularly having a more typical late-night snack can pile on the pounds.
- Poorer choices: Sleep-deprived people crave more high-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-sugar foods, and have less ability to resist them. That means you are more likely to choose the pizza over the salad, and you are not going to stop at one potato chip.
- Lower metabolism: your body temperature may drop so you burn fewer calories throughout the day.
- Less energy: if you are too tired to exercise or even move around much during the day, you will burn fewer calories.
The ASA estimates that being short on sleep could account for as much as 5% of obesity!
Chronic Health Conditions
Sleep affects your physical and mental health in many ways. Being short on sleep is linked to increased risk for the following conditions.
Vehicular and Other Accidents
Not surprisingly, given the importance of sleep for concentration and coordination, lack of sleep has been linked to accidents on the roads and in the workplace.
- Nearly 1 in 25 drivers has admitted to falling asleep at the wheel within the past month.
- Sleep deprivation is responsible for 1,550 fatalities annually in the U.S.
- Sleep deprivation costs about $54 million per year in lost productivity, plus 5 extra missed days of work per worker with insomnia.
Sleep deprivation is common and potentially harmful, but there are often things you can do to increase the amount of quality sleep you get. As the Lark DPP check-in pointed out, keeping a consistent sleep schedule and setting aside enough time for a bedtime routine can help you get enough sleep. Lark DPP can help you figure out what works best for you so you can sleep better.