The Danger of Sleep Deprivation

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Falling asleep during work? It might be that you been suffering sleep deprivation.
Falling asleep during work? It might be that you are suffering sleep deprivation.

Research shows that even one night of disrupted or missed sleep by a healthy person can drastically alter his chemical balance and cause daytime sleepiness and fatigue. This reduces productivity as well as increases the chances of accidents at home or when you’re at work – yes, falling asleep while driving has killed many people on the road.

Sleep deprivation also weakens the immune system leaving us more vulnerable to other diseases and disorders like diabetes, cancer and even the common cold. When you don’t get enough sleep, it makes you stressed out. Stress weakens our immune system so both these things; sleep deprivation and stress, can upset your mental processes. You may suffer from confusion and memory loss. Moods may swing from happy and excited to depress. People who lack sleep are irritable or cry easily. They aren’t the sweetest people to be with. What’s more is if you already have a mental disorder, not sleeping enough only adds to the problem, making it worse.

Scientists are looking seriously at what happens to our bodies when we live on five, six or seven hours of sleep a night. You may think its normal, but what they’ve discovered is really shocking.

Dr. Eve Van Cauter is a sleep science expert whose research team at the University of Chicago recently came out with first study to specially examine the impact of not getting enough sleep – something they call “sleep debt”. In her study, after four hours of sleep for six consecutive nights, healthy young men had blood test results that nearly matched those of diabetics. Their ability to process blood sugar was reduced by 30 percent, they had a huge drop in their insulin response, and they had elevated levels of a stress hormone called cortisol, which can lead to hypertension and memory impairment.

Van Cauter says that sleeping even six or seven hours might be just as dangerous. “Six hours instead of four hours, would have a similar impact but would just take a longer period of time,” she says.

Early in her research. Van Cauter’s found that people who constantly sleep short hours have a hard time keeping their blood sugars stable, which makes them prone to insulin resistance and obesity. American military’s leading sleep expert, Colonel Gregory Belenky noted in his own research that “brain function is degraded by prolonged waking.” Belenky’s high-tech brain images show that sleep debt makes the brain less able to function – especially the areas of the brain responsible for attention, complex planning, complex mental operations, and judgment.

Many believe that they can just sleep longer the next day to make up for it but what most surprised Belenky is that’s it is really hard for the brain to recover from not getting enough sleep. In his study, subjects were still making more errors than when they started even after four to eight-hour recovery nights of sleep.

So how much does each of us individually need? Dr. Belenky noting down how much you sleep while you’re on vacation – that’s the time you can sleep as long as you want. For the first few days you probably will sleep long hours but as you “pay off” your sleep debt, you will reach a natural equilibrium. Sleep enough for a week and after that, you’ll be sleeping the right hours natural – this is the amount of hours you really need.

You can also repay a sleep debt by taking a nap, 20 or 30 minutes preferably from 1 to 3 pm. When you do, it is also critical that you lie down completely. Finally, it is better if you know that you won’t be able to have much sleep tomorrow, make it up today and not try to do it the next day.

So, if you want to stay healthy, be sure you get the sleep you need. If it means a change in lifestyle like cutting out some of your activities or altering sleep habits, remember, if you aren’t willing to take care of your health now, you’re eventually going to be paying for that mistake when you’re older. If you’re still not sure about your sleeping habits or you think you might have sleeping disorder, talk to your doctor and ask for his advice.

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