According to a poll done by WebMD, 35 percent of respondents said they never get as many as seven or eight hours of sleep a night. Another 31 percent reported they were able to sleep that much a couple of times a week, while 16 percent said they were successful four times a week and 18 percent that they got that much sleep every night. The largest bloc thus belonged to those who never get enough sleep. Ouch!
There are definite minuses involved with consistently not getting enough sleep. The first, of course, is that sleep loss makes it hard to function in the daytime, both cognitively and emotionally. If you shortchange your sleep cycles, your brain also won’t be able to fully process everything you learned and experienced the day before. And the resulting daytime fatigue robs you of focus and cognitive functioning.
The second downside of sleep loss is potentially even more serious, as sleep deprivation can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, an irregular heartbeat, heart failure, a heart attack and even a stroke.
Lack of sleep is also a big causative factor in depression. A 2007 study of 10,000 people found that those with insomnia were five times as likely to be depressed as people who slept normally. Lack of sleep also can worsen depression. Fortunately, if you can cure your sleep problem, your depression will often go away as well.
Lack of sleep leads to increased hunger in many people, and in turn they gain weight and put themselves on track for diabetes. Sleep loss is also tough on the skin because it causes the body to release too little growth hormone, which is vital for good muscle and skin tone (to say nothing of those infamous “black bags” under the eyes).
Ultimately, consistent lack of sleep impairs your judgment, just as it retards your cognitive skills, sometimes without your realizing it.
“Studies show that over time, people who are getting six hours of sleep, instead of seven or eight, begin to feel that they’ve adapted to that sleep deprivation — they’ve gotten used to it,” Phil Gehrman, PHD and sleep expert, says. “But if you look at how they actually do on tests of mental alertness and performance, they continue to go downhill. So there’s a point in sleep deprivation when we lose touch with how impaired we are.”
If you’re consciously choosing not to sleep enough, you should make a resolve to improve your health and daily functioning by sleeping normally. If you’re having trouble sleeping and can’t figure out how to improve things, you should consult a sleep professional for evaluation and advice. In either case, sleep is too important to take for granted.