Sleep Habits: More Important Than You Think
Chronic Sleep Deprivation May Harm Health
By Michael J. Breus, PhD
Reviewed by Stuart J. Meyers, MD
Not sleeping enough and not sleeping well is not OK. As a matter of fact, there is quite a price to pay. It may surprise you to learn that chronic sleep deprivation, for whatever reason, significantly affects your health, performance, safety, and pocketbook.
There are many causes of sleep deprivation. The stresses of daily life may intrude upon our ability to sleep well, or perhaps we trade sleep for more work or play. We may have medical or mental-health conditions that disrupt our sleep, and be well aware that we are sleep-deprived.
However, it is critically important to realize that sleep deprivation is very often due to unrecognized sleep disorders. After a typical night’s sleep, you may not feel restored and refreshed and be sleepy during the day, but be totally unaware that you are sleep-deprived or have a sleep disorder. You might think, “It’s just the stress of work or the kids,” or you might have “always felt this way” and had no idea that you should feel differently. This lack of awareness compounds the consequences, because so many people remain undiagnosed for years.
That said, let’s look at the consequences of sleep deprivation.
In the short term:
• Decreased Performance and Alertness: Sleep deprivation induces significant reductions in performance and alertness. Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%.
• Memory and Cognitive Impairment: Decreased alertness and excessive daytime sleepiness impair your memory and your cognitive ability — your ability to think and process information.
• Stress Relationships: Disruption of a bed partner’s sleep due to a sleep disorder may cause significant problems for the relationship (for example, separate bedrooms, conflicts, moodiness, etc.).
• Poor Quality of Life: You might, for example, be unable to participate in certain activities that require sustained attention, like going to the movies, seeing your child in a school play, or watching a favorite TV show.
• Occupational Injury: Excessive sleepiness also contributes to a greater than twofold higher risk of sustaining an occupational injury.
• Automobile Injury: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates conservatively that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities.
The good news for many of the disorders that cause sleep deprivation is that after risk assessment, education, and treatment, memory and cognitive deficits improve and the number of injuries decreases.
In the long term, the clinical consequences of untreated sleep disorders are large indeed. They are associated with numerous, serious medical illnesses, including:
• High blood pressure
• Heart attack
• Heart failure
• Psychiatric problems, including depression and other mood disorders
• Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
• Mental impairment
• Fetal and childhood growth retardation
• Injury from accidents
• Disruption of bed partner’s sleep quality
• Poor quality of life
This post is related to Life Strategy: Balance/General Health & Wellbeing