Sleep Deprivation Can Make You Sick

Karla Smith
St. Alexius Sleep Center

Sleep Deprivation Can Make You SickAs a busy working wife and mother, I realize sleep is the last thing on my “to do” list. I know I am not alone in this 24/7 society. I am not sure we all realize by not making sleep a priority, we are literally making ourselves sick. Sleeping less than the suggested 7-9 hours each night can dramatically increase the risk of long-term health issues including a shortened life expectancy. The chronic medical conditions associated with sleep deprivation are obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

Recent data suggests that people who sleep less than four hours are 73 percent more likely to be obese and those who sleep an average of five hours had a 50 percent greater risk of being obese. Surprisingly, those people who got six hours of sleep dropped their risk of obesity to 23 percent.

Insufficient sleep is associated with decreased leptin and ghrelin levels. These hormones are responsible for telling our brain that it has enough food. The decrease in hormones can result in food cravings even after adequate caloric intake and produce a feeling of decreased energy.

A study done at the University of Chicago revealed a lack of slow wave sleep can decrease the body’s sensitivity to insulin. This study also revealed that after this decreased slow wave sleep the body needed more insulin to dispose of the glucose, the insulin secretion did not increase. This phenomenon can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Heart Disease
According to data from Harvard University’s Nurse Health Study, participants who slept for five to six hours were at a greater risk for cardiac disease. Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.”  This increase in cortisol in people with existing hypertension can cause an increase in blood pressure the day following shortened sleep time. Increased cortisol levels over time can also increase one’s chances of experiencing a sudden cardiac event.  One study showed that sleeping too few hours increased the risk of heart disease in women.

It was previously stated that a lack of quality sleep time can cause a shift in hormone levels.   Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the brain during sleep. This hormone is important in cleaning up free radicals in the body, so it is safe to say that the decrease in Melatonin could decrease the body’s ability to fight cancer.

According to a study published in “Cancer” in October 2010, there is a link between sleep time and colon polyps. Upon review of the sleep patterns of the study participants, the data shows a higher rate of polyps in people who report less than six hours of sleep (29 percent) than in those who state they slept more than seven hours per night (22 percent).

In reviewing all of this, I think this is enough evidence to make sure I move sleep up on my priority list. How about you?