All too often, we pride ourselves on how busy we were “ pulling all-nighters at work, maintaining hectic social lives, or balancing several priorities at once. It’s easy to overlook how poor sleep habits can actually be slowing you down, making you less productive, and putting you at risk for longer-term health problems. Here are 5 key risks a lack of sleep can pose for your health.
1. Reduced Immunity
Anything that reduces your body’s defenses increases your vulnerability to colds and flu, including a lack of sleep. Not only are we at an increased risk of contracting a nasty virus when we’re sleep deprived, we also have a much harder time fighting the illness once it’s in our system.
2. Weight Gain
Experts are now officially naming lack of sleep as one of the key risk factors for obesity, along with lack of exercise and overeating. Studies have shown that those of us consistently averaging less than 6 hours of sleep a night are at an increased risk of having an increased BMI (body mass index), and up to a 30% increased likelihood of obesity. The reason? A consistent lack of sleep lowers our bodies’ ability to recognize that we’ve eaten enough, increases appetite, and disrupts our ability to metabolize food properly.
3. Long-Term Chronic Illness
If you are habitually getting fewer than the recommended hours of sleep nightly “ usually cited as between 7 and 8 hours “ you could be at an increased risk of long-term health problems including heart disease or stroke. A lack of sleep also disrupts the body’s ability to process glucose and reduces the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which puts those with a sleep deficit at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
4. Decreased Mental Resilience & Adaptability
It’s not just physical health that is affected by a lack of sleep. Whether it’s on a short-term or longer-term basis, not getting enough sleep can significantly affect your mood, stress levels, and sociability. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep is linked to depression, anxiety and a lack of ability to cope with new challenges. What’s more, those all-nighters in university were actually counter-productive; proper sleep cycles allow us to consolidate memories from the day and to retain new facts.
5. Increased Risk of Serious Accidents
A string of late nights can do much more than reduce your ability to concentrate at work. If you drive after 18-24 hours without sleep, your impairment is equal to someone who’s driving legally drunk. The greatest number of fatigue-related crashes occur between 4-6 a.m., but a large number also occur between 2-4 p.m. and during rush hour. Blasting the AC or the radio does very little to combat driving fatigue once it’s set in. If you’re noticing that you’re blinking or yawning more than usual, missing exists or road signs, or drifting between lanes, get off the road immediately and either switch driving duties with your passenger or take a short nap.