Many of us treat getting enough sleep as a luxury instead of as a necessity. However, research has shown that people who do not consistently get enough sleep are at a higher risk of falling ill to chronic diseases. Falling asleep while driving, lack of focus, and difficulty performing normal tasks are the short-term effects that most people feel after a short night are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what is truly happening to our body.
Your brain has difficulty telling the difference between good decisions and poor decisions when you’re operating on too few hours of shut-eye. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey conducted by the National Center on Sleep Disorders and the CDC shows that adults who sleep less than seven hours per night have a greatly increased chance of snoring, falling asleep when driving, or nodding off during the day. Sleepy driving is thought to contribute greatly to more than fifteen hundred fatalities each year, and tens of thousands of non-fatal injury accidents.
Sleep Duration and Chronic Disease
There are a few different ways that researchers follow how sleep affects our bodies: sleep deprivation studies, cross-sectional studies and tracking sleep habits against disease patterns over time. The most convincing of these is the latter, but it does take time to prove causality. Some of the diseases that researchers are observing are:
- Obesity: Lack of sleep ranks up with lack of exercise and overeating as a risk factor for obesity. The reason? Our bodies secrete a hormone during sleep that helps regulate our energy levels and metabolism.
- Heart disease and hypertension: Elevated blood pressure can be found after even a single night of inadequate sleep. Women who sleep less than six hours per night are shown to have a higher risk of coronary heart disease, in particular.
- Diabetes: Insufficient sleep also contributes to the factors that cause Type II diabetes because of the way our body converts carbohydrates to fuel.
Getting a healthy amount of sleep, eight hours or more, gives your body the time that it needs to rest, recharge and reset for the rigors of the day ahead. The myriad additional disorders that can come from lack of sleep — reduced immune function, mood disorders, sleep apnea and even a lowered life expectancy — prove the importance of getting enough rest on a regular basis.