We all know that a sleepless night can make us cranky in the morning. However, the other effects of sleep deprivation are far more serious than sleepy eyes and a short temper. Stiffing yourself out of sleep can lead to heart disease, fluctuations in weight and even hallucinations.
Many adults may think they're getting enough shut-eye, but in a major sleep study almost 80 percent of respondents admitted to not getting their prescribed amount of nightly rest. So, what exactly is the right amount of sleep? Research shows that adults need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a night for optimal functionality. So, that talented dog doing back flips on the late night television might seem intriguing enough, but it's not worth your while if his canine acrobatics are cutting into your precious sleep time.
Unless you're depriving yourself of sleep right now -- in that case, turn off your computer and find the nearest pillow -- read on to see just how much of an impact moderate sleep deprivation can have on your mind and body.
For a second, imagine all of your memories are erased; every birthday, summer vacation, even what you did yesterday afternoon is completely lost, because you have no recollection of them.
It's a chilling thought, but that is what a life without sleep would be like. Sleep is essential to the cognitive functions of the brain, and without it, our ability to consolidate memories, learn daily tasks, and make decisions is impaired by a large degree. Research has revealed that REM sleep, or dream-sleep, helps solidify the "fragile" memories the brain creates throughout the day so that they can be easily organized and stored in the mind's long-term cache.
It might be more than just the midnight munchies that are adding inches to your waistline. Sleep deprivation can be culprit, as well, constantly plotting to give you droopy eyes and sabotage your figure. In 1984, a sleep study revealed that people who averaged six hours of sleep per night were 27 percent more likely to be overweight than those who got seven to nine hours. And those who averaged only five hours of sleep per night were 73 percent more likely to be overweight.
When the body is forced to stay awake, it becomes very difficult for it to process blood sugar and leptin, a protein hormone that regulates appetite and metabolism. Over time, poor sleeping habits could lead to type 2 diabetes and weight gain, due to your body's decreased ability to process sugar and suppress food cravings.
During deep REM sleep, your muscles (except those in the eyes) are essentially immobilized in order to keep you from acting out on your dreams. Unfortunately, this effort your body makes to keep you safe while dreaming can sometimes backfire, resulting in sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis occurs when the brain is aroused from its REM cycle, but the body remains in its immobilizing state. This can be quite a frightening sensation because, while your mind is slowly regaining consciousness, it has no control over your body, leaving some with a feeling of powerlessness, fear and panic.
Most people experience this eerie phenomena at least once in their lives, but those who are sleep deprived are more likely to have panicked episodes of sleep paralysis that are usually accompanied by hallucinations, as well.
A Weakened Immune System
We all hang around in bed during our bouts of illness. But did you know that skipping out on the bed rest can increase your risk of getting sick? Prolonged sleep deprivation has long been associated with diminished immune functions, but researchers have also found a direct correlation between "modest" sleep deprivation -- less than six hours -- and reduced immune response.
Try to toughen up your immune system by getting at least seven hours of sleep a night, and maintaining a healthy diet. You'll be glad you got that extra hour of sleep the next time that bug comes around and leaves everyone else bedridden with a fever for three days.
High Blood Pressure
The pressure is building, but there's no suspense here. By getting less than six hours of sleep a night, you could be putting yourself at risk for high blood pressure. When you sleep, your heart gets a break and is able to slow down for a significant period of time. But cutting back on sleep means your heart has to work overtime without its allotted break. By constantly skipping out on all of your 40 winks, your body must accommodate to its new conditions and elevate your overall daily blood pressure.
And the heart isn't the only organ that is overtaxed by a lack of sleep. The less sleep you get, the less time the brain has to regulate stress hormones, and over time, sleep deprivation could permanently hinder the brain's ability to regulate these hormones, leading to elevated blood pressure. Getting the recommended amount of sleep means you're doing one of the simplest actions to keep your heart healthy.
Adapted from 500 Dreams Interpreted, © 2009 Publications International, Ltd.
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Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health (2006, April 4). Lack Of Sleep Linked To Increased Risk Of High Blood Pressure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 31, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2006/04/060403230551.htm