Did you ever find yourselves staring at a computer screen and then realise that it’s 3 o’clock in the morning? Did you ever stay up late just to finish that one assignment that’s due the next day? We’ve all been there. Not getting enough sleep seems like the norm these days – and we probably should be worried about it. Here’s why.
Impairs heart function
Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep (less than 5 hours) for a long period of time can cause problems to the heart. To be more specific, it can lead to hypertension.
What exactly is hypertension and why is it something to worry about? “Hyper” means elevated and “tension” refers to the pressure of the blood vessels in our body. Therefore, hypertension is a condition of high blood pressure. The elevated blood pressure is caused by the heart that pumps blood at a higher rate as a consequence of sleep deprivation.
When we don’t have enough sleep, a part of our nervous system known as the sympathetic nervous system is activated, resulting in an increased production of catecholamines such as adrenaline. You’ve probably heard of the phrase “adrenaline rush”: increased heart rate, anxiety and sweating. We all know that those are the last thing that we want when we’re trying to go to sleep.
In the long run, hypertension can increase the risk of other cardiovascular diseases that can seriously affect our health further including heart attack, strokes and even heart failure.
Increases risk of diabetes and obesity
Scientists currently believe that sleep loss is associated with an increased appetite, especially at night – and we all can relate to this. When we’re having a hard time trying to sleep, there’s a high chance that we feel hungry and suddenly find ourselves rummaging through the kitchen cupboard. This is bad news for our health because it leads to over-eating, and we all know what over-eating does to our body weight. If this continues to happen, there is a high risk of developing obesity.
Other studies suggest that lack of sleep can cause changes in glucose metabolism. Glucose from our food intake is taken up by our cells with the help of a hormone called insulin. Prolonged exposure of insulin to our cells can lead to insulin resistance, which means that our cells can no longer respond to insulin. As a result, glucose cannot enter our cells and remains in the blood, causing a high blood glucose level or hyperglycaemia – a condition called diabetes.
There are a number of harmful effects associated with hyperglycaemia including damage to the kidney and blood vessels. One study has shown that hyperglycaemia causes the release of a group of chemicals known as inflammatory cytokines that in turn causes inflammation. Inflammation is a way for our body to fight off diseases caused by bacteria and viruses by producing harmful chemicals targeted at those invaders. However, since these cytokines are released in the absence of an infection, they may cause harm to our own cells instead. There is also evidence suggesting that prolonged inflammation can lead to cancer progression.
Worsens our susceptibility to infections
Some of you may have noticed that whenever we don’t get enough sleep, we are more likely to get sick. But why? Our immune system is the guardian of our health. It protects us from getting sick from bacterial and viral infections.
There are many cells involved in providing immunity to diseases, and one of them is known as natural killer cells. According to research, insufficient sleep can reduce the activity of natural killer cells. These cells function by scouting for infectious agents throughout our body. Whenever they detect any bacteria or viruses, they respond by informing other immune cells to get rid of the invaders. When their activity is reduced, our immune system won’t be able to respond effectively, thus causing us to get sick more easily. So, make sure to get enough sleep if you don’t want those bacteria to get you.
Although the things we’ve discussed here are major problems, remember that these are only some of the consequences of sleep deprivation. It’s only the tip of the iceberg. There are other health issues associated with lack of sleep that are currently being studied. Therefore, it’s important for us to get enough sleep in order to maintain our health.