The immediate effects of too little sleep are obvious. You’re groggy, unfocused, sluggish and dying for a nap (or a second cup of coffee). Then there are the sneakier signs you’re overtired: You’re overly emotional, starving and clumsier than usual. Most of the time, a restful night will solve all these problems.
The average adult needs about seven to nine hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but most of us don’t even get that much. But getting too little shut-eye – generally understood to mean six hours or less a night — can be serious – enough to change your genes.
Of course, one night of deprivation won’t put you at serious risk, but one week can. After just seven nights of too little sleep, researchers observed more than 700 genetic changes that could play a role in consequences including heart problems and obesity, according to a recent study.
Here are some of the most frightening effects of deprivation. And while these are sobering, the good news is that the duration is in your control.
Sleep Deprivation can:
- Increase Stroke Risk – Even without the typical risk factors, like being overweight or having a family history, deprivation can up your risk for stroke, according to 2012 research. Adults who regularly slept fewer than six hours a night had four times the risk of stroke symptoms, HuffPost reported
- Lead to Obesity – Too little sleep can spur some less-than-ideal food choices, including serving yourself larger portions, and a hankering for junk food, thanks to some complicated hormonal changes that occur when you don’t get sufficient shuteye. It seems that six hours or less bumps up production of the hunger hormone ghrelin and limits leptin, which helps you balance your food intake, according to a 2012 review of 18 studies.
- Increase Diabetes Risk – A pair of small studies from 2012 examined the link between poor sleep and insulin resistance, a telltale risk factor for diabetes. One found that among healthy teenagers, the shortest sleepers had the highest insulin resistance, meaning the body is not using insulin effectively, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The second study examined fat cells, in particular, and found that cutting back on sleep increased insulin resistance in these cells, even when diet and calorie intake were restricted, Health.com reported.
- Fuel Memory Loss – You probably know that on the days when you are most tired, you’re forgetful and unfocused – but deprivation can lead to permanent cognitive issues. The less we sleep, the less we benefit from the memory-storing properties it brings. But additionally, a deprivation can cause “brain deterioration,” according to a 2013 study, which may at least in part explain memory loss in seniors.
- Increase Cancer Risk – A small (but growing) body of research suggests that short and poor sleep can up risk for certain types of cancer. A 2010 study found that among 1,240 people screened for colorectal cancer, the 338 who were diagnosed were more likely to average fewer than six hours of rest a night. Even after controlling for more traditional risk factors, polyps were more common in people who slept less, according to the study. Getting just six hours a night has also been linked to an increase of recurrence in breast cancer patients. The study’s author has pointed to more and better sleep as a possible pathway of reducing risk and recurrence.
- Hurt Your Heart – The stress and strain of too little sleep can cause the body to produce more of the chemicals and hormones that can lead to heart disease, according to 2011 research. The study found that people who slept for six hours or less each night and have problems staying asleep had a 48 percent higher risk of developing or dying from heart disease.
- Kill You – It’s not just heart problems that can lead to deprivation-related death. In fact, short sleepers seem to die younger of any cause than people who get about 6.5 to 7.5 hours a night, TIME reported. A 2010 study examined the impact on mortality and found that men who slept for less than six hours a night were four times more likely to die over a 14-year period. The study’s authors called this link “a risk that has been underestimated.”
Health-e-Solutions comment: Genetic change and immune system weakness are good motivators to aim for more and better sleep. It runs in our family to have difficulty getting adequate quality rest, so it would appear that the not-so-good genes are already switched on. However, with a disciplined, intentional approach we can work to change that pattern, just as we can with dietary changes.
This is one of the five pillars supporting thriving health and better #BloodSugarControl in the Health-e-Solutions lifestyle. Diabetes and sleep problems often go hand in hand. Diabetes can cause deprivation, and there is evidence that poor sleep increases your risk of developing diabetes. Research is revealing the links between sleep and diabetes and suggests that we should use rest like diet and exercise to prevent or #ControlDiabetesNaturally. Make it a priority! We’ll help you learn why and how with our downloadable, printable special report.