Sleep Deprivation is the World’s Most Misunderstood Drug

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sleep is important - that’s a given.

Despite knowing that, we often overlook the impact of sleep deprivation. What’s a night with only a few hours of sleep, right?

Wrong.

Sleep deprivation includes a number of elements such as not getting enough sleep nightly, sleeping outside your body’s natural rhythms (during the day), repeated sleep interruptions that interfere with sleep stages, and frequently poor quality of sleep.

Most people, at some point in their lives, suffer through sleep deprivation.

Many are convinced they don’t need much sleep while others might be up repeatedly at night with a new baby, working all night on a tight deadline or college paper, or binging on Netflix. We avoid sleep all the time.

The fact is, even one week of insufficient sleep can have serious effects on our bodies – especially our brains.

Toss in shift work, on call work, or sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea), and countless people are suffering without even realizing it.

Whatever the cause, the Centers for Disease Control notes that insufficient sleep is a public health problem responsible for motor vehicle accidents, industrial disasters, and errors on the job (including the medical field).

How is sleep deprivation like a drug?

Not only does a sleep deprived brain resemble a meth addict’s, but your body also begins to act like it’s on drugs. After 24 hours without sleep, you can experience euphoria, hallucinations, jitters, irritability and aggression, carelessness, dissociation, and an inability to form cohesive thoughts – all of which result in decreased brain functioning and a high risk of injury due to accidents.

These fuzzy, warm, dimming feeling of disassociation can be addictive – especially for people suffering with eating disorders, drug or alcohol addictions.

The Long Term Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Cognitive and Bodily Function

When we sleep, our bodies actually repair themselves. Most importantly, our brain repairs itself. And we all know how important our brains are!

During sleep, the brain's’ cerebrospinal fluid’s flow increases significantly, washing out waste proteins that are toxic. When sleep is deprived, this flow is reduced and more toxins remain in the brain. Yikes.

Sleeping is also when our brains consolidate and process data, so when we are deprived of sleep, our judgement and memory are impaired. Interestingly, scientists believe this process can help reduce dementia, since dementia diseases are linked to sleep disorders.

Without adequate sleep, our brains aren’t equipped to control our motor skills or judgment, making us more prone to injury by slowing our reaction time - yes, sleep deprivation can make us clumsy too!

Growth Problems For Kids

For kids, adequate sleep is essential to healthy growth. Just like adults, sleep is when kids process and retain knowledge, so losing sleep inhibits their ability not just to grow physically, but to grow developmentally.

Weight and Skin

A lack of sleep can actually change how we look. It makes us retain more fat because our bodies think we’re being attacked, it makes us hungrier because our bodies aren’t being replenished or rejuvenated, and it triggers cravings for high-fat, high-carb foods.

The less sleep we get, the more we want to eat junk food, and the more we overeat because our judgement is impaired, linking sleep deprivation and sleep disorders to obesity. Losing sleep makes our skin lose elasticity, making it look slack, dull, and saggy – ultimately aging us prematurely.

Disease and Disorder

Ongoing lack of sleep has long-term health consequences. Sleep deprivation is linked to many diseases and disorders including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, immune function, mood disorders, substance abuse, and sleep apnea.

In fact, some of these health issues (hypertension, diabetes, obesity, mood disorders) are obstructive sleep apnea symptoms and because of the links and correlations, sleep apnea tends to be misdiagnosed – especially in women.

Luckily, sleep apnea treatments work, so if you struggle with sleep deprivation and think you might have sleep apnea, take our sleep quiz to find out how at risk you are.