By Elisabeth Buchwald
Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
One in three adults doesn’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
A host of new studies point out the dangers that lie in sleepless nights.
A lack of sleep can have unforeseen consequences.
Sleep-deprived people feel lonelier and less inclined to engage with others, according to a new study by researchers at researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, which was published in the Aug. 14 edition of the journal Nature Communications. “Sleep deprivation can turn us into social lepers,” said Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.
People often don’t take sleep deprivation seriously enough, he said. “There’s no biological or social safety net for sleep deprivation,” Walker said. “That’s why our physical and mental health implode so quickly even after the loss of just one or two hours of sleep.” He added, “On a positive note, just one night of good sleep makes you feel more outgoing and socially confident.”
To avoid experiencing a host of adverse effects due to sleep deprivation, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that on average adults should get about seven to eight hours of sleep each night in order to feel well-rested. One in three adults does not get enough sleep, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To get a good night’s sleep, experts from the Mayo Clinic recommend setting a consistent wake-up time, limiting use of electronic devices right before bedtime, limiting consumption of caffeine, alcohol and other substances that impair sleep quality, and increasing daily physical activity. After all, a lack of sleep can have some surprising effects:
Eating too much junk food late at night
A new study conducted by the University of Arizona found that of the 60% of individuals who indulged in regular nighttime snacking, nearly two-thirds said that lack of sleep led them to crave more junk food. In turn, craving more junk food is linked to increased likelihood of obesity, diabetes and other health-related issues.
According to The State of Obesity public health project, health care costs of obesity in the U.S. range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year. Additionally, the researchers noted that “obesity is associated with job absenteeism, costing approximately $4.3 billion annually and with lower productivity while at work, costing employers $506 per obese worker per year.”
Having a heart that seems older than your body
A separate study conducted by the CDC and Emory University researchers presented at the 2018 SLEEP meeting this week showed that “excess heart age” appeared to be lowest amongst adults who slept approximately seven hours a night.
Heart age is defined as the estimated age of a person’s cardiovascular system based on factors that contribute to heart-health, including whether or not someone has high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. Excess heart age is the difference between a person’s heart age and their chronological age.
“Compared to people who sleep for seven hours, those who sleep for six hours each night have a 15% higher risk of having an excess heart age of 10 years or more” said Julia Durmer, the lead investigator and co-author of the study. “Additionally, for those who sleep fewer than six hours each night, their risk of having an excess heart age of 10 years or more increases to 25%.”
“Telling a 30-year-old that they could have a heart of a 40-year-old, I hope will get people to think more about how improving sleep quality can help improve your health,” Durmer said.
In the U.S., sleep apnea is the most prevalent underdiagnosed sleep disorder and the annual economic burden of undiagnosed sleep apnea among U.S. adults is approximately $149.6 billion, according to AASM. It accounts for $86.9 billion in lost productivity, $26.2 billion in motor vehicle accidents and $6.5 billion in workplace accidents.
Increasing your risk of dying earlier
People who sleep less than six hours per night have a 13% higher mortality risk than individuals who sleep between seven and nine hours, according to a study published in RAND Health Quarterly, an online journal. Common causes of death associated with sleep deprivation include: fatal car crashes, strokes, cancer or related cardiovascular diseases.
Difficulty being productive at school or work
Here’s a more obvious effect: The less sleep you get at night the less productive you may be during the day, but all that lack of sleep adds up. It’s not just one drowsy worker. There’s a small army of groggy workers driving vehicles, sitting at desks and, in some cases, operating machinery on too little sleep.
Those who sleep less than six hours a night lose the equivalent of approximately six working days a year, according to the RAND study. And for children, sleep deprivation impairs their rate of skill development.
The loss of productivity due to lack of sleep costs the U.S. economy approximately $411 billion and 1.2 million working days per year, according to a study produced by RAND. If all U.S. workers got at least seven hours of sleep per night, RAND estimates the economy could experience a potential 2.3% increase in gross domestic product.
Difficulty making life or death decisions
For doctors, first responders and military personnel, making the right decision can often mean the difference between life or death. A Washington State University report released in May reveals that a lack of sleep may make the brain unable to effectively assess certain situations in order to make the right choices.