Most people with hectic work schedules are often forced to sacrifice their bedtime hours to meet tight deadlines and achieve targets.
But unknown to most people, long-term sleep deprivation causes adverse physical and psychological effects to the body.
Dr Amit Shankar, sleep expert and consultant Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist at Aga Khan University Hospital, states that for proper functioning of the brain and body systems, it is recommended that adults sleep for between seven and nine hours every night.
Sleep deprivation or its inadequacy, he says, can lower people’s quality of life hence increasing their chances of premature or early death.
Too little sleep weakens the body’s immune system thus making people vulnerable to ailments when exposed to disease causing germs or pathogens.
“People who sleep for less than five hours per night have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, heart attacks and strokes.”
Aside from enhancing weight gain, Dr Shankar warns that those who don’t get enough sleep have higher blood sugar levels and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
This is because insufficient sleep affects the body’s release of insulin, a hormone which normally helps to regulate the amount of sugar in the body.
“Sleep deprivation can also make existing respiratory diseases such as chronic lung illness, worse.”
Lack of sleep, Dr Shankar points out, can negatively impact both short-term and long-term memory. This is because it is during sleep that the brain consolidates memories whilst storing them in an easily retrievable format. Inadequate sleep disrupts this process and impedes people’s ability to remember, which can consequently disrupt their lives. This will affect people’s concentration, creativity and problem solving skills.
Dr Shankar says that insufficient sleep also interferes with body balance and co-ordination, consequently making those suffering from it to become more prone to falls and other physical accidents.
He states: “Moreover, it increases the risk of car accidents due to drowsiness during the day time.”
Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California (UC) Berkeley found that sleep-deprived people feel lonelier and are less inclined to engage with others.
They also avoid close contact in much the same way as people with social anxiety.
The study noted that this alienation makes sleep-deprived individuals more socially unattractive to others.
Researchers found that well-rested people feel lonely after just a brief encounter with a sleep-deprived person, potentially triggering a viral contagion of social isolation.
The findings, which are published in the Nature Communications Journal, are the first to show a two-way relationship between sleep loss and becoming socially isolated.
“We humans are a social species. Yet sleep deprivation can turn us into social lepers,” said Matthew Walker, senior author of the study and a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.
“The less sleep you get, the less you want to socially interact. In turn, other people perceive you as more socially repulsive, further increasing the grave social-isolation impact of sleep loss.”
Dr Walker noted that this vicious cycle may be a significant contributing factor to the public health crisis that is loneliness.
“It’s perhaps no coincidence that the past few decades have seen a marked increase in loneliness and an equally dramatic decrease in sleep duration. Without sufficient sleep, we become a social turn-off, and loneliness soon kicks in,” said Eti Ben Simon, another lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in Walker’s Centre for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley.
Notably, researchers found that the amount of sleep a person got from one night to the next accurately predicted how lonely and unsociable they would feel from one day to the next.
“This all bodes well if you sleep the necessary seven to nine hours a night, but not so well if you continue to short-change your sleep,” Walker said.
“On a positive note, just one night of good sleep makes you feel more outgoing and socially confident, and furthermore, will attract others to you.”
According to Dr Shankar, the body’s hormone production system is dependent on sleep too. Its deprivation can thus affect production of growth hormones, which are responsible for muscle building and tissue repair in children and adolescents.
“People who don’t get enough sleep often have a lower libido. In men, this decreased sex drive may be due to a drop in testosterone hormone levels.”
Sleep disorders can be caused by fatigue due to hectic schedules, alcohol abuse, physical disturbances like painful ulcers, medical issues like asthma and psychiatric problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.
A night-time breathing disorder called Obstructive sleep Apnea (OSA) can also interrupt sleep and lower its quality.