The Surprising Long-Term Effects of Sleep Deprivation


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Getting enough sleep may often be considered a luxury, but strong evidence now suggests it is a necessity. Here are some of the surprising effects that come from lack of sleep.

Weight Gain

Consistent lack of sleep has long been associated with weight gain, but new research shows that a single night of sleep deprivation created a stronger response to high-calorie junk foods in the part of the testers' brains that helps govern the motivation to eat, while also causing a sharp reduction in activity in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for assessing consequences, when compared to days when the subjects had not been sleep deprived.

Slower Thought Process

Not only does lack of sleep make you less alert, you are less apt to reason, concentrate and solve problems effectively and it has been shown to impair your short term memory, making it more likely that you'll do things like misplace your keys.

Bad Skin

Consistent lack of sleep causes the body to release more cortisol, a stress hormone, which can break down skin collagen, the protein responsible for keeping skin smooth. Thus, getting too little sleep can not only lead to dark circles and puffy eyes, but to fine lines and wrinkles.

Chronic Disease

Over time, lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing a host of chronic diseases including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Mood Disorders

A single night of sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, while chronic insufficient sleep has been correlated with long-term mood disorders including depression and anxiety.

No Plateau

The effects of sleep deprivation are cumulative and never plateau, so while someone who is consistently sleep deprived may say they are not sleepy after awhile, that's not because they are no longer affected by their lack of sleep, but rather due to the fact that they no longer realize the negative effects that lack of sleep is having on their mind and body.

Lower Life Expectancy

A number of large studies have shown that consistently sleeping five hours or less per night increased mortality risk from all causes by roughly 15 percent.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. To learn more about sleep disorders and why sleep matters, check out Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine.