Not sleeping enough and not sleeping well is not okay. 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 wallet.
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 short term:
Decreased Performance and Alertness
Sleep deprivation induces significant reductions in performance and alertness. Reducing your night time 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.
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.
Excessive sleepiness also contributes to a greater than twofold higher risk of sustaining an occupational injury.
Each year drowsy driving is responsible for the majority automobile crashes
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 illness, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Psychiatric problems including depression and other mood disorders
- Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD)
- Mental impairment
- Fetal and childhood growth retardation
- Injury from accidents
- Disruption of bed partner’s sleep quality
- Poor quality of life
Studies show an increased mortality risk for those reporting less than either six or seven hours per night. One study found that reduced sleep time is greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure and heart diseases. Sleep disturbance is also one of the leading predictors of institutionalization in the elderly, and severe insomnia triples the mortality risk in elderly men.
Sleep-related breathing disorders represent a spectrum of abnormalities that range from simple snoring to sleep apnea (repeated episodes of cessation of breathing during sleep). As highly prevalent as they are, most cases remain undiagnosed and untreated.
- Chronic snoring, for example, is associated with an increased incidence of heart and brain related diseases.
- Sleep apnea is a primary risk factor for high blood pressure; as many as 40% of those people are undiagnosed and untreated for high blood pressure. Effective treatment of sleep apnea in patients with high blood pressure leads to a substantial reduction in stroke risk.
- Patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea perform as poorly as drunk drivers and have up to a 15-fold increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.
With the wealth of information and treatment options available for sleep deprivation, much of the suffering, illness from the many related diseases, increase in accident rates, and effects on productivity, performance, concentration, and memory can be avoided. Increased awareness is the first step, for us individually and the health care community. Some researchers suggest that sleep deprivation should be recognized with the same seriousness that has been associated with the societal impact of alcohol.