Although most of us are quick to sacrifice sleep in the name of a tight deadline, a school project, or another hour of TV, repeatedly shortening your time in bed can result in a number of different health problems, including high blood pressure, poor balance, and depression.
“Going to sleep at night isn’t just to fill time; there’s a reason for us to recharge every night. Sleep is just as integral to your health as exercise and proper nutrition,” says Rochelle Goldberg, MD, director of Sleep Medicine Services at The Paoli Hospital Center for Sleep Medicine.
While staying up late for a night or two probably won’t negatively affect your health, a pattern of late nights, restless sleep, and early mornings can add up quickly. Dr. Goldberg explains what health risks you can expect if you’re regularly pushing off some much-needed sleep.
A loss in sleep may mean a gain in weight. Adults who sleep less are more likely to be overweight. Sleep won’t help you shed pounds directly, but it will manage your metabolism. Getting 7.5 hours of sleep every night can keep your metabolism functioning properly, which will keep your weight in check. A lack of sleep has also been linked to making poor food choices, which can contribute to weight gain.
Lack of sleep and depression are two conditions that seem to go hand-in-hand. Insomnia, a sleep disorder, has been strongly linked to depression, but even those without insomnia can be more prone to depression symptoms like lack of energy, interest, and concentration.
This probably won’t come as a surprise to most, but lack of sleep can contribute to a poor memory. During sleep, the brain replays what happened during the day and makes important connections to improve learning and memory, moving information from the hippocampus to the neocortex to create long-term memories. If you want to remember all those notes from today’s meeting, an hour of sleep might be just as helpful as reviewing your notes again.
Too little sleep can cause high blood pressure, diabetes, and calcium buildup in the arteries, all of which are risk factors for heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. Sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder, can also be considered a risk factor for heart disease. Coupled with the potential weight gain caused by lack of sleep, your heart can be at a much greater risk for a cardiac event when you forego a good night’s sleep. Learn more about what a lack of sleep can do to your heart.
A night of no sleep or poor sleep can mean puffy skin and bags under your eyes, but a pattern of bad sleep can result in even more. During sleep, our bodies release human growth hormone and cortisol, which help keep skin smooth, hydrated, and thick. Skipping sleep—even just for a few days—can mean a change in your skin almost immediately.
If you are concerned about a lack of sleep or sleep quality, make an appointment with a sleep specialist.