When we close our eyes for a few hours each evening, we allow our bodies to recharge after all the stress of the previous day. Millions of processes go on while you sleep, and while we’re awake, the brain helps us commit everything to memory as our cells repair and repair damaged tissue. None of this happens when you are sleep deprived. Not only will we wake up the next day groggy and have difficulty concentrating, but prolonged sleep deprivation can have serious consequences for our health. In fact, enough research has been done on exactly what happens to different parts of the body if we don’t get eight hours every night.
These studies have found that lack of sleep can lead to many serious and life-threatening conditions, from cancer to diabetes and heart disease. So what exactly are the conditions that are officially linked to poor sleep habits?
- Alzheimer’s disease
A 2013 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that sleep deprivation is not only a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, but also affects the speed of the disease’s progression. The research builds on previous research showing that sleep is needed to rid the brain of “brain waste,” or debris, that accumulates in the brain and causes dementia.
In a study of 70 adults between the ages of 53 and 91, researchers found that those who reported poor sleep each night had higher levels of beta-amyloid deposits in their brains with PET scans. This combination is known to be a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, leading researchers to conclude that lack of sleep prevents the brain from getting rid of “brain waste.”
- Obesity and diabetes
Chicago disease has long been linked to lack of sleep, but a recent study by researchers at the University of Chicago found that poor sleep can lead to obesity, which in turn leads to diabetes. Knowing that the amount of fatty acids in the blood affects metabolic rate and insulin’s ability to regulate blood sugar, researchers looked at how little sleep affects fatty acid accumulation.
Researchers studied the sleep patterns of 19 men and found that those who slept just four hours over three nights had higher levels of fatty acids in their blood between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. Sleeps 8.5 hours every day. Also, the researchers found that high levels of fatty acids increase insulin resistance, which is a pre-diabetes symptom. Those who slept more showed no signs of obesity or pre-diabetes.
- Cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease has long been linked to poor sleep, but a recent study presented at EuroHeart Care, the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology, found evidence of a strong link. Researchers followed 657 Russian men aged 25-64 for 14 years and found that nearly two-thirds of those who had heart attacks had sleep disorders.