Sleep is marvelous. If we get enough of it, we feel great the next day, and it gives us the energy we need to stay focused. However, one-third of adults in the U.S. get less sleep than the recommended number of hours. What are the main reasons for wide-scale sleep deprivation? Read on to find out, and learn about some of the serious consequences of not getting enough sleep.
There is nothing like crawling into your warm, comfortable bed at the end of a long day. You feel satisfied with everything you did over the course of the day, so you find that perfect position, your body relaxes, and you fall into a deep, uninterrupted sleep until the next morning. You wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Don’t we all wish this were true more often than not.
What normally happens is something like this:
It’s getting closer to midnight, but you still aren’t done with the presentation you have to give the next day. After you got home, you had to get dinner together for yourself and your family, clean up the house, and make sure everyone was ready for the next day. Late at night is when you know you have the quiet and stillness you need to be productive. You regularly glance over at your bed as you work at your desk. The bed looks oh-so-lonely without you in it.
After a few hours, you finally succumb to the exhaustion, feeling slightly guilty, and promise yourself you’ll wake up at the crack of dawn in order to finish that presentation. The stress causes you to take a while to fall asleep, but your body finally gives in and you are able to sleep for a few hours, before cringing at the sound of your alarm the next day.
If this second scenario sounds more like your life, you are not alone. In the U.S., a third of people don’t get enough sleep. Those who fall into this category are sleeping less than seven hours every night — the minimum amount adults should be getting.
The reasons may be many, but they have similar results. In your case, it may not be a presentation you have to turn in the next day keeping you awake, but something more chronic.
Some of the most common reasons people don’t get enough sleep are:
Taking sleep for granted
You may not know how important sleep is for you, and as a result, you don’t prioritize it.
Too many stimulants
Caffeine in coffee, tea, and the foods we eat prevents us from sleeping well, since it competes with the natural chemicals in our body that make us sleepy over the course of the day.
While it can make you drowsy, your sleep isn’t deep after a night of drinking , and you might feel sick as a result.
Just like in the scenario mentioned above, irregular work times negatively affect sleeping habits and prevent you from developing a regular pattern. The same is true of people who work shifts that change frequently.
Eating and drinking late
Late meals may cause heartburn, as well as a spike in energy. Drinking too much water before going to bed may make you get up in the middle of the night, interrupting your sleep.
Looking at your phone, computer, or tablet right before going to sleep
The light that comes from screens stimulates your brain, and makes it difficult to wind down. Try to avoid looking at a screen, including a TV, before going to bed in order to have a calm and deep sleep.
Thoughts that keep your mind occupied prevent you from calming down and may keep you staring at the ceiling for hours before being able to sleep.
Taking non-drowsy drugs
Often, over the counter medication that is advertised as non-drowsy has a stimulant in the formula to counteract the active ingredients in the medication that make you sleepy. Avoid taking these medications too close to bed.
Some serious sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome often go undiagnosed, and they have profound effects on your health. If you suspect you might have one of these disorders, consult with a physician or sleep specialist.
Pregnancy and other medical conditions
Medical conditions may cause bodily discomfort, or mental preoccupation that keeps you from getting to sleep. Additionally, pregnancy may cause interruptions in your sleep due to hormonal changes, and changes in the body that can cause discomfort.
Now that you know what might be causing your sleeplessness, let’s take a look at its potential negative effects:
You may gain weight
Many studies have shown a link between insufficient sleep and weight gain when getting less than six hours of sleep per night.
You may have a higher risk of chronic diseases
Sleep deprivation is associated with increased stress, increased blood pressure, blood glucose that is too high or too low, and increased inflammation. All of these are risk factors for developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
You may get sick more easily
When you sleep, your immune system produces substances that help to fight infection. When your body is vulnerable to infection and you aren’t getting enough sleep, you don’t give your body the chance to produce illness-fighting substances.
You are moody
Of course, we know how being sleepy can be the cause of bad moods. Beyond that, however, poor sleep habits are correlated with depression, anxiety, and mental distress, resulting in lower sociability and overall happiness.
You may have a lower life expectancy
Because of all of the problems mentioned above, it is only logical that poor sleep over a long period of time is associated with a lower life expectancy. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School revealed that “sleeping five hours or less per night increased mortality risk from all causes by roughly 15 percent.”
If you feel that your lack of sleep is something you can improve by making small changes in your lifestyle, get in your pajamas, grab your pillow, and get a good night’s sleep.
However, if you think your sleep issues are more deep-rooted, it is essential that you talk to your doctor, who may refer you to see a specialist.
Sleep Health Foundation: Common Reasons Why People Don’t Get Enough Sleep
CNN: A Third Of U.S. Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep
Healthy Sleep, Harvard: Sleep and Disease Risk