Missing one night of sleep is a normal occurrence for individuals around the globe. But what if you lack sleep on a regular basis? What if you’re unable to obtain quality sleep due to a sleep disorder? Those consequences may be more serious.
Sufficient sleep is one of the pillars of good health, along with regular exercise and a balanced diet. We characterize good quality sleep as having sufficient duration, satisfactory depth, seamless continuity and well-balanced architecture. Recurring lack of quality sleep can lead to long-term health risks such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cognitive alterations and even gait disturbance.
It starts as a child
When children are deprived of sleep, they become irritable and hyperactive. Since the major episode of growth hormone liberation occurs in association with deep sleep, sleep deprivation can lead to stunted growth. One study is searching for biomarkers in saliva and hair samples of toddlers who are not sleeping well — meaning very soon researchers could have biological evidence that lack of sleep harms developing minds and bodies.
In adults, sleep deprivation looks different. It usually causes fatigue, poor concentration and reduced memory. Stretching one poor night into chronic sleep loss can lead to irritability, mood swings and several mental disorders such as depression.
Drowsy and driving
Outside physical health, poor attention while driving increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents. On the job, sleep deprivation reduces work productivity. In the U.S., the economic cost of insufficient sleep among the working population is $411 billion per year.
Because sleep deprivation shortens telomere length in DNA, which facilitates chaotic cellular growth, it can increase the risk of various forms of cancer. Clinical studies suggest that telomere shortening may be a contributing factor for breast cancer risk among female shift workers such as nurses and flight attendants.
If your sleep is insufficient, impaired by a relevant sleep disorder or of poor quality, the risk to jeopardize healthy aging is statistically high and menacing. We ask that while we promote the importance of healthy sleep for World Sleep Day on March 15, 2019, you consult a medical professional about better sleep.
Antonio Culebras, MD and Liborio Parrino, MD, World Sleep Society, [email protected]