Grumpy? Overweight? Feeling unattractive and unable to concentrate? These are signs of sleep deprivation, a growing public health concern in America.
For centuries depriving prisoners of sleep has been a torture tactic used during wartime. When a person experiences acute sleep deprivation, they become disoriented, confused, open to persuasion, and unable to think or function normally. Are you inadvertently torturing yourself by skipping the appropriate amount of shuteye?
The sleep you need
The amount of sleep necessary for individuals varies, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least seven hours a night of uninterrupted sleep for adults. Teens need nine to 10 hours, school-aged children need at least 10 hours and newborns need 16 to 18 hours a day.
There is an emphasis on uninterrupted sleep because your circadian system — your 24-hour internal clock — keeps your entire body on track. Getting out of a normal rhythm causes multiple side effects that can significantly impact all aspects of your health.
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“Our bodies benefit from good rest and sleep,” said Raj Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine expert at Keck Medicine of USC. “I actually think of sleep as necessary, like breathing, eating and drinking.”
No sleep? These side effects will keep you up at night
Still not convinced that sleep deprivation may affect your health? Consider these scientifically proven side effects:
1. Overall health
Healthful sleep can increase longevity — more than diet, exercise or genes. Likewise, a chronic lack of sleep is linked to serious health problems such as heart disease, hypertension, depression, obesity, stroke, depressed immunity and diabetes — all of which can increase the risk of death.
2. Car accidents
Studies link the lack of sleep and fatigue to an increase in traffic accidents. One study found that 16 to 20 percent of serious highway accidents in the UK, Australia and Brazil were linked to driver fatigue. A lack of sleep lowers your cognitive performance, which makes it harder to drive with the alertness and reaction skills needed to avoid accidents.
3. Work-related injuries
When you aren’t rested, you can’t perform at peak levels. Studies show that the lack of sleep decreases concentration and impairs cognitive and motor performance. Consequently, when someone is sleep-deprived, the risk of a work-related injury increases.
4. Weight gain
If death and injury aren’t enough to persuade you, perhaps the thought of gaining weight will get you in bed on time. A lack of sleep is linked to obesity and weight gain. It’s a known fact that sleep deprivation increases craving for high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods and weakens your willpower to choose healthy alternative foods.
5. Accelerated aging
There is truth in the saying that we need our beauty sleep. Studies show that sleep disorders not only make you grouchy and unable to function normally, but they can make you age prematurely. That’s because a disruption in sleep can negatively affect your skin health. Signs of aging increase, such puffiness around the eyes, dark circles and droopy corners of your mouth. A lack of sleep causes fine lines around your eyes, uneven pigment and reduced skin elasticity.
The good news? Participants in the study recovered quickly when they were allowed to sleep the needed amount of time.
6. Decrease in sex drive
Not enough sleep is killing your sex drive. It’s no surprise that sleep-deprived men and women are less interested in sex when they are exhausted. Depleted energy, lower testosterone levels and sleepiness are to blame. Researchers found that adequate sleep increased arousal and interest in sex.
Stop torturing yourself and set your alarm — for bedtime — and vow to improve your sleep habits now.
The USC Sleep Disorders Center of Keck Medicine of USC offers comprehensive outpatient and inpatient sleep disorder evaluations. Schedule an appointment, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment
By Heidi Tyline King