How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Health

How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Health

Some people downplay the importance of rest. Some alternative health practitioners urge their followers to learn how to get only five hours of rest each night. In some cases, telling people to get less rest as part of a retraining schedule makes sense, but that’s only under a doctor’s supervision as part of an insomnia treatment plan. For most of us, the effects of chronic sleep problems can be very serious.

Weakens Cognitive Function

You may realize that not getting enough rest leaves you with a foggy head in the morning. The idea that your brain needs to rest is supported by the research. In a study of healthy adults, the subjects were allowed to rest for four or six hours a night over 14 days. The researchers found that chronic restriction of rest resulted in cumulative deficits in cognitive performance. Cognitive performance includes mental alertness, memory and ability to focus.

The study also found that even relatively moderate restrictions can seriously impair waking neurobehavioral functions in healthy adults. If you want to stay alert and mentally focused, you need to get a good night’s rest on a regular basis.

Harms Your Metabolism

There is a growing awareness that obesity and other metabolic problems are linked to insomnia. Some studies now claim that the concurrent trend of insomnia may be one reason there are more overweight and obese people than ever.

Researchers believe there are three ways sleep problems affect your metabolism:

  • Increase insulin resistance
  • Disrupt your ability to control your appetite
  • Lower your energy levels

These three factors contribute to increased risks of obesity and diabetes.

In a population-based longitudinal study, the researchers followed a group of people with chronic insomnia over several years. They found a clear link between loss of rest and the development of the metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The subjects in the study had signs of metabolic syndrome that included high blood pressure, high triglycerides and high blood glucose.

Weakens Your Immune System

A long-term analysis of clinical research found that there is a clear link between inflammation and chronic insomnia. Inflammation refers to a state of heightened temperature your body produces when it’s about to develop an illness. Chronic or prolonged inflammation weakens your immune system. As these studies conclude, there is significant interaction between rest and the immune system. Regular, restorative rest is needed to maintain good immunity.

The studies also found that chronic sleep deprivation might be linked to increased morbidity and mortality. In other words, if you’re sick because of another illness, insomnia will make your condition worse.

sleep deprivation

Impairs Performance

According to a book by the National Institute of Medicine, some of the most devastating human and environmental disasters are partially attributed to fatigue-related performance failures, sleeplessness, and night shift work-related performance failures. The authors cite the Union Carbide chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India; the nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island; and the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker.

There is ample evidence that sleep loss affects neuromotor coordination and the ability to concentrate. These effects show up as an inability to respond quickly to emergencies and make the right decisions under pressure.

Some scientists refer to this effect as a “failure of vigilant attention.” They have identified a test called the psychomotor vigilance test that measures our ability to respond to stimuli quickly. Researchers have used this test to check the responses of people without adequate rest. They have discovered four key findings:

  • Chronic sleeplessness results in slower responses.
  • It increases the tendency to lapse.
  • It increases the time it takes to complete tasks.
  • It disrupts circadian rhythms.

It’s clear that if you want to respond quickly and perform complex tasks with care and precision, you need to be well-rested.

Are You Getting Enough?

A night of restorative rest is key to your good health. How can you increase your chances of getting some? Start by talking to your doctor or mental health professional. They can help you develop a plan and make the right lifestyle changes.

UpNow Health only uses high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed articles, to support the facts within our articles. All our articles are reviewed by experts to ensure that our content is accurate, helpful, and trustworthy.

1. Divi: Artour Rakhimov: Rest less (4.5 Hours Only) and better naturally. Link at How To Rest Less.

2. Abigail Abrams: How to train yourself to need less rest. TIME: Jan. 20, 2017. LInk at Need Less Rest.

3. WebMD: Why resting less may Help You Rest Better.

4. Hans P.A. Van Dongen, Greg Maislin, Janet M. Mullington, David F. Dinges: The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: Dose-Response effects on neurobehavioral functions and physiology from chronic restriction and total deprivation. J. S, Vol. 26, Issue 2, March 2003, Pages 117–126,

5. Kristen L. Knutson, Karine Spiegel, Plamen Penev, Eve Van Cauter:
The metabolic consequences of deprivation. Med. Reviews, Vol. 11, Issue 3, 2007, pp. 163-178, ISSN 1087-0792. Link at


6. Jang-Young Kim, Dhananjay Yadav, Song Vogue Ahn, Sang-Baek Koh, Jong Taek Park, Junghan Yoon, Byung-Su Yoo, Seung-Hwan Lee: A prospective study of total duration and incident metabolic syndrome: the ARIRANG study. Medicine, Vol. 16, Iss. 12, 2015, pp. 1511-1515, ISSN 1389-9457. Link at

7. Laila Al-Dabal and Ahmed S. Ba-Hammam: Metabolic, endocrine, and immune consequences of deprivation. Open Respir. Med. J., 2011; 5: 31–43.

Published online June 23, 2011, link at DOI: 10.2174/1874306401105010031.

8. Colten, H. R., Altevogt, B. M., & Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research (Eds.). (2006). Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. National Academies Press (US).

9. Institute of Medicine: Colten HR and Altevogt BM, editors. An unmet public health problem. Washington, D.C.National Academies Press 2006. Chapter 4, Functional and Economic Impact. Link at

10. Lim, J. and Dinges, D. F. (2008). Deprivation and vigilant attention. In D. W. Pfaff & B. L. Kieffer, Molecular and biophysical mechanisms of arousal, alertness and attention (pp. 305–322). Blackwell Publishing. Link to summary at

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