Why a Chronic Lack of Sleep Causes More Harm Than Good

Losing sleep regularly can contribute to health-related issues, such as cardiovascular disease, weight gain and even elevated cancer risks.


Does this sound familiar? The alarm sounds and you slap the snooze button five times before rolling out of bed after tossing and turning all night. The yawning won’t end and you can’t seem to function without a steaming cup o’ joe. 

Life is hectic and stressful, and many Americans find it difficult to get their needed 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night (children and teens need at least 10 to 12 hours a night). However, chronically missing hours of sleep each night is detrimental to our health.

According to the American Heart Association, poor sleep habits can put us at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, cognitive declines, depression, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), high blood sugar, high cholesterol, infections, inflammation and obesity. 

Dr. Dan Shade, director of the Allegheny Health Network Sleep Disorders Center, stresses we need to start prioritizing sleep. He adds sleep deprivation can negatively affect our immune systems, heart health, sexual performance, increase our risk of developing cancer and even shorten our lifespan.

“It’s as, if not more, important as getting the proper nutrition and exercise,” he says. “If you don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, it has a lot of consequences.”

Shade breaks sleep deprivation into two categories — acute sleep deprivation, a period of a few days with no or very little sleep, and chronic sleep deprivation, where an individual routinely sleeps less than the amount required for optimal functioning.

“When we stay awake for periods of say, 24 hours, we function as if we have a blood-alcohol level that is above the legal limit with delays in reaction times, etc.,” he adds. “Over time, people think they can get used to functioning on such little sleep even though their performance is affected.”

While some of us choose to routinely lose sleep, others lose slumber due to a number of sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, insomnia and narcolepsy. Those who suffer from chronic pain can also lose much-needed rest.

“If you’re suffering from a sleep disorder, or if your medication causes sleeplessness, we can evaluate each patient’s condition and treat them appropriately so they can increase both the time and quality of sleep they receive,” notes Shade. 

For those of us who just need more discipline in our sleep regimen, Shade offers the following tips:

  • Sleep in a cool, dark room
  • Limit noise or use white noise
  • Limit time on your cell phone and watching TV. The blue light from the screens can inhibit the production of melatonin
  • Exercise 
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption before bed

The American Heart Association also has an abundance of resources associated with the effects of sleep deprivation. 

“People think they don’t have to sleep and they are just fooling themselves,” Shade says. “Almost anything can be affected by a lack of sleep. You also can’t make up for chronic sleep deprivation just by sleeping in on the weekends; you need to have regular habits to get rid of that pattern and prevent it.”

Categories: BeWell