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Did you know that 1 in 3 adults in the United States report not getting enough sleep daily? Even though it’s common not to get enough rest, the consequences of sleep deprivation should not be taken lightly. Not only does inadequate sleep impact our mood and mind, but it can also take a toll on our physical health. 

Here’s a detailed look at the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, including steps you can take to ensure a good night’s rest.

Short-Term Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

Impaired Cognitive Function

Not getting enough sleep can affect your concentration and problem-solving skills. This makes it difficult to focus on a task or make decisions at work, home, or school. It can also cause you to be less alert and impair your reaction times, increasing the risk of accidents while driving or working a hands-on job. 

Mood Swings and Irritability

Research also shows that lack of sleep affects your mood. Just a few bad nights of sleep can lead to an altered emotional state. 

One study by the University of Pennsylvania found that people who only got 4.5 hours of sleep a night for just one week felt more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. Once they were able to get their normal amount of sleep again, the subject’s mood dramatically improved. 

To learn more, read how Sleep Deprivation Affects Relationships.

Physical Health Effects

A few nights of bad sleep can be hard on your physical health. In a short amount of time, lack of sleep can raise your blood pressure. It can also increase levels of stress hormones and cause digestive problems like indigestion and acid reflux. Not to mention that you’ll feel fatigued, which makes it harder to carry out everyday tasks. 

Long-term Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Memory and Learning Impairments

Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can worsen your memory and make it harder to learn new things. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, lack of sleep can reduce your ability to learn by 40%. That’s because inadequate sleep impacts the hippocampus, a part of our brain that’s responsible for making new memories. 

Increased Risk of Mental Health Disorders

Mental health and sleep are closely connected, and long-term sleep deprivation can increase the risk of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Lack of sleep can also aggravate the symptoms of these conditions and make them more difficult to manage. 

Impact on the Immune System and Chronic Disease Risk

A weakened immune system is another long-term effect of sleep deprivation. Your body needs adequate sleep to keep your immune system strong and produce infection-fighting antibodies. Lack of sleep over time stops your body from building up these forces, making it more likely to fall ill and take longer to recover from your sickness. 

Eventually, sleep deprivation increases your chances of developing more long-term health problems. According to the CDC, lack of sleep has been linked to several types of chronic conditions, including Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

Factors Contributing to Sleep Deprivation

Lifestyle Factors

Poor sleep hygiene and lifestyle habits can affect your sleep quality. For example, eating and drinking certain foods and beverages too late in the day, like coffee and spicy meals, can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Similarly, exercising too close to bedtime can increase your heart rate and keep you awake. A diet filled with processed foods, drinking alcohol, and smoking can also contribute to poor sleep. 

Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle, disrupting your circadian rhythm, which tells your body when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be awake. 

People who experience stressful events during the day may also find it harder to sleep at night because their brain triggers a fight-or-flight response and releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol (not exactly what you want flowing through your body as you try to unwind for the night). 

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders affect between 50 to 70 million U.S. adults, with insomnia being the most common condition. This sleep disorder is characterized by not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep and can either be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic).  

Sleep apnea is another common sleep disorder where the airway is blocked, and breathing gets shallow or stops altogether. People with sleep apnea often wake up choking and gasping for air, making it hard to fall into a consistent deep sleep. 

Strategies for Improving Sleep Quality

Establishing a Sleep Routine

Setting a consistent sleep-wake schedule will help support your circadian rhythm, signaling to your body when it’s time to sleep or wake up. Once you’ve established what time you’ll go to bed, start building a routine an hour or two before you sleep. Try and do the same thing every night, like reading a book or doing gentle yoga, to reinforce that you’re gearing down for sleep in your mind.

Creating a Sleep-Inducing Environment

Creating a restful sleep environment can help you get better sleep. Block out noise and light and set a cool but comfortable temperature sleep experts recommend a temperature around 65 degrees Fahrenheit). A quality mattress and comfortable bedding are also essential for quality sleep.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Establishing healthy lifestyle habits can also support your circadian rhythm so you can sleep better at night. For instance, avoiding stimulants like caffeine before bed and turning off your electronics at least an hour before you sleep can improve your sleep quality. Eating nutritious foods, exercising, and managing stress levels can also help. 

If you’re experiencing chronic health issues like shoulder pain, acid reflux, and sleep apnea, consider changing your sleep position. Doctors recommend sleeping on your side for a host of health issues. Using medical pillows that support your neck and spine can also help you find relief. 

Conclusion

Prioritizing sleep and addressing sleep deprivation is imperative to your overall health, as it can have drastic short-term and long-term consequences. Looking at what could be causing your sleep deprivation and then implementing healthy strategies to combat these factors is a great place to start. Speaking with your doctor to discuss sleep health solutions is also crucial. 

If you suffer from shoulder pain, acid reflux, or a sleep disorder, sleeping on your side can help combat your symptoms. Using a medically backed pillow, like MedCline’s Sleep Solutions, can give you proper support on your side and help you sleep better at night. Unlike regular pillows and wedges, our clinically proven sleep system has a patented arm pocket that can be adjusted for optimal support. It also won’t shift around as you sleep, allowing for all-night stability and comfort. 

For more information, head to our MedCline FAQs or reach out to our team of Sleep Specialists today. 

Consequences of Sleep Deprivation – FAQs

What are the side effects of lack of sleep?

In a short amount of time, lack of sleep can lead to impaired cognitive function, mood swings, irritability, and poor physical health. Long-term effects of sleep deprivation include impaired memory and learning, a weakened immune system, and an increased risk of mental health disorders and chronic diseases. 

How does lack of sleep affect the brain?

Inadequate sleep impacts the hippocampus, the part of our brain that’s responsible for making new memories. As a result, chronic sleep deprivation makes it hard to learn and retain information. 

Can you die from sleep deprivation?

Lack of sleep deprivation is not likely to cause someone to die directly. But the effects can build over time and turn into serious symptoms and chronic diseases that can affect your life expectancy and quality of life. 

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