It is estimated that the average adult will spend 36 percent of his or her life asleep. Sleep has a restorative effect on the mind and body and sleep can reduce health problems. According to a study by the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Center for Translational Neuromedicine, sleep helps clear out metabolic waste accumulated by the brain through the day. If the waste collected by the brain isn’t removed, it may lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Poor sleep can lead to many health problems and can be detrimental in the long run. It can put you at risk for chronic diseases and obesity. Sleep deprivation leads to low productivity, fatigue, a bad mood and lack of focus.

Why is Sleep Important?  

Sleep Can Reduce Health Problems with restoration and removal of toxins from the brain. The study published in the journal ‘Science’ found that during the sleep window, brain cells shrunk by 60 percent. This shrinking creates more space between cells and allows cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to flush out the waste into the circulatory system and finally the liver. This shows that sleep is an important component of health and sleep-deprivation can lead to many disorders. Sleep also helps with the consolidation of memories and maintains long-term memories. If your sleep cycle is affected, it can interfere with your capacity to form concrete and emotional memories. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to insulin insensitivity, metabolic syndrome and obesity. This can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, and even sleep disorders. A good night’s sleep reduces health problems and about 7-8.5 hours is the minimum requirement to stay health and for long-term.

How Does Sleep Affect the Human Body

Medical conditions like cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, stroke and mental health issues like depression are caused by sleep deprivation. A study by an expert from China Medical University also found a link between insomnia and cardiovascular ailments. Many chronic health problems occur because of sleep deficiency and it may increase your risk for chronic conditions. Your central nervous system will have trouble functioning if you aren’t getting enough sleep. Low sleep can weaken the ability of the prefrontal cortex to process emotions and makes it difficult to focus or form new memories. While you rest at night, your immune system produces cytokines that help fight foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses. So when you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t produce cytokines and makes you more susceptible to illness. Low sleep may also hamper fertility and your mental well being, making you prone to depression and anxiety.

Sleep deficiency can also have a detrimental effect on your respiratory system and puts you at risk of infections like flu, common cold and exacerbates existing respiratory conditions. It also affects growth hormone production, which can slow down tissue building and cell repair in the body. In fact, low sleep leads to overproduction of stress hormones like norepinephrine and cortisol. Other effects of sleep deprivation include poor impulse control, inability to delay gratification, bad moods, intolerance, lower empathy, inability to think positively and low willingness to resolve problems among others. Those that suffer from sleep deficiency more often report feelings of inadequacy, accident-prone patterns, low quality of life, low-self esteem, poor productivity levels, conflicts with co-workers, powerlessness and failure.  

Treatment and Prevention of Sleep Deficiency

If a person is unable to sleep due to a physical or psychological problem, they can consult a sleep specialist who may suggest behavioral or cognitive treatments. Relaxation techniques like meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, stimulation control like lighting and moderation of sleep patterns may be suggested by a specialist. Cognitive behavioral therapy may also help those with sleep issues to develop better sleeping habits. If these methods don’t work, medications like benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine hypnotics may be prescribed.

Specific age groups need varied durations of sleep to remain healthy. To prevent sleep deprivation, newborns must sleep 14 to 17 hours each day, infants must get 12 to 15 hours, toddlers must rest 11 to 14 hours, and preschoolers must sleep for at least 10 to 13 hours. School children aged 6 to 13 years must sleep for 9 to 11 hours, teenagers must get about 8 to 10 hours of sleep, while adults and older adults are supposed to get 7-9 hours of sleep daily. Good sleep habits can help people to prevent sleep deficiency. They may include maintaining the same sleep schedule every day, avoiding blue light from devices an hour before bedtime, limiting daytime naps, avoiding heavy dinner, abstaining from nicotine and being physically active. Individuals must ensure that they get a good night’s sleep in order to avoid health problems in the future.