How Dangerous Is Sleep Deprivation

The fast-pace life of the modern society has replaced the normal patterns of sleep and rest that Homo sapiens used to get back in the old days. With occupations demanding work during graveyard shifts to family and different lifestyle leisure like partying till dawn can put the natural body clock to wreck. And modern life brought with it so many distractions from getting a night of restful sleep. From late night TVs to the Internet, not everyone gets at least seven hours of healthful sleep.

Why do we have to sleep? Sleep experts admit that why we sleep has not yet been fully understood, but many things are surfacing as scientists are scratching just the tip of the iceberg in the attempt to uncover the mystery behind sleeping. The human species were never designed to be nocturnal, and none in our recorded human history have we found any evidence to say that we have evolved to be night creatures.

Scientists are finding that sleep deprivation can do a lot of harm to our health and could actually explain some of the killer diseases that we know today. Here are some of the health problems that are found to be associated with sleep problems based on scientific findings:

  •  Obesity – Studies are establishing connections between weight increases and sleep deprivation. In a sample of 10,000 adults whose ages range from 32-49 years old, the results show that those who are likely to become obese are those who get less than seven hours of sleep at night. Apparently there seems to be a connection between sleep deprivation and the disruption of hormones responsible for the regulation of appetite. In a report from the Harvard Medical School “Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.”
  •  Heart disease, stroke and diabetes –  In physiologic studies, decreasing the number of sleep subjects the body into stress so that the natural response of the body is to release hormones during this period of red alert. Once the body responds to this stress, inflammatory responses take place which result to heightened blood pressure and may trigger strokes or cause heart diseases. “Based on our findings, we believe that if you lose sleep that your body needs, then you produce these inflammatory markers that on a chronic basis can create low-grade inflammation and predispose you to cardiovascular events and a shorter life span,” said Alexandros N. Vgontzas of Pennsylvania State University, who also reported that naps can help counter the harmful effects of sleep deprivation. In addition, based on the report of Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., people who do not get enough sleep regularly tend to become less sensitive to insulin, which increases their risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. These diseases can seriously threaten the brain.
  • Increased likelihood of cancer  – Melatonin is a natural hormone that is responsible for the regulation of the body clock. Many studies are collecting evidences that melatonin is a powerful anti-oxidant which also has the capacity to prevent cancer cell growth. The amount of light influences the amount of melatonin produced. Sleeping with lights on reduces the production of melatonin, thereby reducing its power to ward off killer cancer cells. Scientists are discovering that people who work at night are significantly more prone to breast and colon cancer. According to Eva S. Schernhammer of Harvard Medical School, who has conducted a series of studies on volunteers in sleep laboratories “Melatonin can prevent tumor cells from growing – it’s cancer-protective…The theory is, if you are exposed to light at night, on average you will produce less melatonin, increasing your cancer risk.
  • Diminished mental performance Sleep deprivation subjects a person to poor mental performance. Individuals who sleep less tend to have less ability to concentrate. Dr. Mark Mahowald, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, warns that “One complete night of sleep deprivation is as impairing in simulated driving tests as a legally intoxicating blood-alcohol level.”

Sleep is a basic physiologic need – much like breathing, eating and drinking. Depriving yourself from this need puts your body at risk of developing various forms of diseases. So before you think that you could get by with just few hours of sleep while habitually going to bed at unusually late hours, you might consider investing more time for yourself by being a slumber master for at least seven hours of the night.


“Importance of Sleep: Six Reasons not to Scrimp on Sleep” (January 2006). The Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School.

Stein, R. “Scientists Finding Out What Losing Sleep Does to the Body“. The Washington Post. (October 9, 2005)

The Franklin Institute: Sources for Science Learning. (2004) “Renew – Sleep and Rest”

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