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Why sleep deprivation is more dangerous than you think

We all know how it feels when we don’t have a peaceful night of rest.

We wake up feeling tired, lethargic, groggy and even cranky, but over a prolonged period, these surface level symptoms can become more serious.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult should get anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night. However it seems that most Australian’s average only around six hours per night.

Sleep deprivation is defined at anything less than 6 hours per night, and the longer sleep deprivation continues, the more dangerous the risks become.

After one or two nights of sleep deprivation you may feel sluggish, tired, unfocused and in desperate need of a second or third cup of coffee. After a few days of sleep deprivation you may start feeling overly emotional, clumsy, mentally foggy and hungry for sweets or carbs. After a week of sleep deprivation you may be doing enough damage to alter and change your genes.

Researchers have discovered that just seven days of sleep deprivation can cause over 700 genetic changes in the body.

These changes include disruptions to the genes that help control our response to stress, inflammation, and immune functions.

Sleep deprivation is not just about feeling tired. There are many other side effects that we may not be aware of until it is too late.

These side effects include-

Higher Levels of Anxiety: sleep deprivation causes the brain to amplify its anticipatory reactions, which in turn helps to increase the feelings of anxiety or even panic.

Higher Levels of Depression: the brain is responsible for releasing neurotransmitters that help to regulate our mood, but when we are overly tired the brain decreases the neurotransmitters released, making us susceptible to feelings of depression.

Impaired Mental Cognition: when we feel sleepy it impairs our memory and makes it more challenging to think, concentrate and process information clearly. A lack of sleep also stifles creative processes and tampers with our ability to make decisions.  In fact, reducing sleep by just 90 minutes can reduce alertness by 32 percent.

Increases Risk of Hypertension: studies have found that those who sleep less than 6 hours per night are more likely to have higher blood pressure. This is believed to be because sleep helps to regulate stress hormones that keep blood pressure in control.

Increased Risk of Heart Disease: by sleeping over six hours per night our blood pressure naturally drops, and we enter a state of relaxation. When we don’t get to experience this on a nightly basis and blood pressure remains high, the risk of developing heart disease is also increased.

Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: when we haven’t been able to achieve a restful night’s sleep our body enters into “stress mode” and releases the stress hormones, cortisol and norepinephrine. Continued release of these hormones is associated with insulin resistance, thereby increasing the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Increased Risk of Injury or Accidents: it should come as no surprise that lack of sleep can cause an increase of accidents or injuries. This is not only because sleep deprivation impairs our cognitive ability but also because emotionally, the body is under a lot of stress. When we feel stressed, we are more likely to forget to look before we leap and act in an impulsive way. The risk of getting into a car accident is also elevated when sleep deprived. It is believed that a lack of sleep is responsible for over 100,000 car crashes each year.

Increased Sugary Cravings: when our body is not given adequate rest it causes the hormones that regulate appetite to become disrupted. When we sleep, ghrelin and leptin, the hormones that regulate feelings of hunger and fullness are able to be in balance but when tired, our body releases more ghrelin, which is the hormone that makes us feel hungry.

Increased Risk of Certain Cancers: alarmingly, there has been a correlation found between the incidence of breast and prostate cancer and a lack of sleep. This is believed to be due to the reduction in melatonin, which disrupts oestrogen production.

Increase Risk of Stroke: we know now that a lack of sleep negatively impacts on blood pressure levels. This, can increase the risk of having a stroke, particularly in those who already have a history of heart disease.

Poor Immunity: our sleep and wake cycles help our body to determine its circadian rhythm. When sleep is irregular, and the circadian rhythm is disrupted, it can lead to a decrease in white blood cell count, which in turn can lower immunity.

Decreased Sex Drive: research has found that both women and men who are sleep deprived have lower libido’s and are less likely to be interested in sex. This is believed to be related to their energy levels and the lack of neurotransmitters released from the brain when tired.

Blemished Skin: a lack of sleep has been shown to create wrinkles, dark circles under the eyes, dullness and even acne. When the body is sleep deprived it releases more cortisol, which breaks down collagen. Collagen is responsible for firming, brightening and plumping the skin which is why poor sleep can effect skin quality.

Loss of Brain Tissue: sleep deprivation can impact upon our ability to think and process things clearly, but it can also lead to loss of brain tissue. In a small study, researchers found that men who got less than 6 hours of sleep per night experienced higher brain tissue loss.

Death: a study conducted found that men who got less than six hours of sleep per night were four times more likely to die over a period of 14 years. Of course, while death may not a direct result of sleep deprivation, it does bring about many side effects that can impair your health and impact on the quality of your life.

Sleep deprivation is definitely more dangerous than most people realise. Even though seven to nine hours is the recommended amount of sleep to get each night for the average adult, the real number is dependent on your genetic makeup and your lifestyle.

At different times in our lives, we may also need more sleep, such as when we are recovering from a cough or cold or dealing with a very stressful life event.

The best way to determine if you are getting a proper night’s sleep is to go by how you feel throughout the day.

If you feel anything less than rested and energised, you may have to add a few more hours to your sleeping routine.

Sweet dreams, Koalas.

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