Sleep journal recently published the results of an alarming study which found that teens who go to bed late at night tend to have higher body mass. I wasn't surprised by the findings, there is already a mounting body of scientific research linking lack of sleep to obesity. But this most recent report advises this could be a potential target for weight management for young people as they transition into adulthood, which got me to thinking about the many ways that lack of sleep damages the human body. Thus I've decided to make the dangers of sleep deprivation the focus of today's article.
Sleep is a natural biological function. God created sleep so that the human body would repair cellular damage, conserve energy and promote mental calm. Unfortunately, people have little respect for its importance. We spend an increasing number of hours devoted to activities that could often be postponed until the next day. As a result, efficiency and productivity suffer. Even worse, sleep deprivation has an adverse effect on hormone balance which then leads to drastic changes in mood, cardiovascular health, weight management, intellect and physical energy.
Hormones are chemicals that tell our cells what to do. Cells use them all the time to talk to themselves, their close neighbors and even cells in far away parts of the body. And, as you are about to see, when cells start to ignore the messages that each of them is sending, or send out the wrong messages - as a result of the body not getting enough sleep at night - the results can be downright fatal.
Sleep Deprivation Makes You Hungry
Have you ever been so sleepy, that you felt really hungry the next day? Most people do. The reason is because the lack of sleep has thrown your appetite for a loop. Scientists have found a relationship between lack of sleep and increase in the hormone ghrelin and a corresponding decrease in leptin. Ghrelin stimulates your appetite whereas leptin is the hormone that tells you that you're full so you should stop eating.
When you don't get enough sleep at night, your body will produce more of the hungry hormone and less of the fullness hormone, so the next day you have a craving for sweet foods. If you give into the urge to eat, and continue going with less sleep at night, eventually it will cause you to gain weight, develop type 2 diabetes or both.
Sleep Deprivation Can Cause You To Develop Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is characterized by an inability to produce insulin or use it effectively. Insulin is a hormone the body produces in response to the presence of sugar in the bloodstream. When the blood has a large amount of sugar circulating in it, the body sends a message to the pancreas. This organ plays an important role in digestion. When the pancreas gets the signal that sugar levels in the blood are up, it produces insulin.
Insulin acts like a key that opens the doors of your cells to allow the sugar to get in and be used for energy. But if the cells become unresponsive to insulin - a condition medical science defines as insulin resistance - they will ignore the sugar, thus allowing it to accumulate in the bloodstream. Eventually this leads to pre-diabetes, and if left unchecked, will balloon into full blown type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a potential killer. It can lead to blindness, amputations, strokes and premature death.
The World Health Organization estimated that 347 million people around the world suffered from type 2 diabetes.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that diabetes is on the rise. Even more alarming, 79 million Americans are pre-diabetic but worst of all is that 70.9 million of these people don't even realize they have pre-diabetes.
Research shows that people who work long hours are at greater risk for diabetes than people who get a good night's rest. Have you ever wondered why? Well, now you know!
Sleep Deprivation Can Give You A Heart Attack
Diabetes and obesity are related. An important study found that overweight and obese teens were at increased risk for pre-diabetes, unhealthy levels of bad cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella encompassing high blood pressure, hypertension and high cholesterol. These problems overwork the heart; if left untreated the result could be a heart attack.
The research team who conducted the study expressed concern because many of these obese and overweight teens will mature to obese and overweight adults, meaning the risk of heart attacks follow them for the rest of their lives.
Considering the sobering fact that obesity in America is on the rise, this is a very serious problem indeed.
Sleep Deprivation Can Make Your Muscles Weak
A recent study found that people who don't get much sleep at night are more likely to suffer from loss of muscle. The actual condition is termed sarcopenia; Korean scientists found sleep deprivation is linked to muscle loss, diabetes and metabolic syndrome (heart disease, diabetes and obesity).
Notice how sleep loss is linked to obesity and muscle loss. How eager are you to exercise when you're worn out from lack of sleep? After a while, lack of exercise will cause you to lose muscle; when you combine that with an ongoing case of the munchies it's no longer a mystery as to why you've become flabby and physically weak!
Sleep Deprivation Can Make You Mean and Cranky
The University of Arkansas found a relationship between anger and lack of sleep. They surveyed female college students who reported that they tended to develop feelings of aggression, revenge planning and stewing of angry thoughts if they went without sleep for too long.
No doubt you've heard a cranky person described as someone who "got up on the wrong side of the bed". That old saying seems to be very accurate when you think about the University of Arkansas study.
And if lack of sleep isn't already doing enough to make a student's life miserable, it can also have a bad effect on academic performance.
Sleep Deprivation Can Make You Become A Lousy Student
You would think that staying up late would make you a better student, but research says otherwise. In fact, high school and college students who stay up late at night often turn out to be poor students in college.
On the other hand, students who got a healthy amount of sleep often had higher grade point averages (GPAs), thus making them better students academically.
Of course, many young people are staying up late to watch television or play video games. Although it may appear that they're enjoying themselves, the outcome of such physical inactivity and lack of sleep isn't pretty.
In a groundbreaking study of nearly 8,000 children and adolescents, scientists from Harvard Medical School report that for every extra hour young people stayed up late, these children and teens gained body weight.
Should people fail to grow out of the habit of staying up past their bedtime, many will continue to pay the price well into their older years.
Sleep Deprivation Can Harm Your Brain When You Get Older
Scientists at Oxford University studied the brains of people who sleep poorly at night. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed that the brains of people who didn't get much sleep at night were shrinking - particularly in men and women over age 60. Yes, you read that correctly. The human brain tends to shrink when it doesn't get a sufficient amount of sleep.
It doesn't happen overnight (pun intended), but if you make a habit of putting off sleep after a while, it will catch up with you.
By now you should be coming to the realization that sleep is a very essential function, a function your body relies on to remain healthy. Although, there are circumstances that require us to postpone sleep, it's not something that should be encouraged long term. The consequences of ignoring your body might be terribly unpleasant.
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Asarnow LD, McGlinchey E, & Harvey AG (2015). Evidence for a Possible Link between Bedtime and Change in Body Mass Index. Sleep, 38 (10), 1523-7 PMID: 26194568
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