There are plenty of articles full of information about the positive effects of a good night’s sleep. Certainly you don’t need to be a sleep specialist to know our physical, mental, and emotional well being are either positively or negatively affected by our sleep patterns. Ask a parent of a newborn, a college student during finals, or a freshly hired shift worker how they’re feeling after an extended period of sleepless nights and they’ll undoubtedly tell you they need a month of undisturbed slumber to “catch up” on their lost hours of sleep.
Circumstances of life can often have an adverse affect on our sleeping habits. Through no fault of our own, we can find ourself in a position where keeping up with healthy sleep habits are impossible. While some of the affects of these periods of poor sleeping habits are obvious (bags under the eyes, decreased ability to focus, extreme fatigue), how many of us know just how negative poor sleeping habits can be for us?
For example, extended periods of sleep deprivation can cause:
Traffic accident statistics are irrefutable. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says over 100,000 traffic accidents are the direct result of fatigue in the U.S. annually. While much of the focus is on educating the public on the dangers of drunk driving on our nation’s highways, driving while fatigued should not be forgotten. Taking a break on long road trips, including naps at a rest stop or stopping at a hotel for the night, or taking turns driving with friends or family members are just some of the easy steps to get your rest and prevent potentially tragic accidents.
Workplace safety can be affected by sleep depravation. Chronically fatigued workers often equals an increase in reportable safety infractions, loss of productivity, increase in sick days due to accidents on the job, or worse. Keeping ourselves healthy in body and mind is a vital component in a safe work environment. Healthy sleep habits go a long way towards achieving that environment.
Have you ever taken one look at someone and instantly concluded they haven’t experienced REM sleep in a long time? Ever seen that person staring at you from a mirror? For many of us, we won’t notice how bad our sleeping habits are until we take close look at the reflection looking back at us. Sagging skin, puffy eyes, dark circles, and even fading skin pigmentation can all be an effect of chronic sleep loss.
One physical effect of sleep loss is the release of hormones the body needs during periods of stress like cortisol. Excessive amounts of cortisol is known to break down the protein the skin needs to keep it smooth and elastic; collagen.
Sleep deprivation can also affect the body’s release of human growth hormone. As we age, these hormones can increase muscle mass as well as keep the skin from thinning. Sleep loss reduces the amount of these hormones the body needs. Over time these hormonal imbalances can take a noticeable toll on our physical well being. Regular sleep habits are certainly much less expensive and more preferable to hormone injections or surgeries to keep our skin looking young.
As if we needed any more help in this area, sleep loss can also be a factor in adding on extra pounds. According to a study conducted in 2004, people who habitually experienced sleep loss in excess of six hours a day were more 30% likely to become obese than people who slept seven or more hours a day.
The connection appears to be a reduction in peptides that regulate appetite. The conclusion researches have come to is loss of sleep actually stimulates the appetite including cravings of foods high in fat and carbohydrates. Anyone who has pulled a few all-night TV sessions with a bout of insomnia can testify to the accuracy of this study. You don’t hear of too many people watching infomercials at 2:00 in the morning with a bowl of celery and carrots. In point of fact, this research has even effected weight loss programs, many of which have begun to include improved sleep habits in their curriculum. Apparently, the old saying is true: when you snooze, you may actually lose.
These are just a few of the affects sleep deprivation can have on the body over time. Obviously the need for sleep is fairly important, not just for our daily routine or productivity but for our overall health and well being. So, the next time you’re faced with an extended period of time with loss of sleep, you can make informed decisions on your long-term sleeping habits. All of us have seasons of sleepless nights. The important thing is to not let a season become a lifestyle. After all, there really is nothing that can beat a good night’s sleep…