6 Unexpected Health Risks Associated with Insufficient Sleep

You know how crummy you feel when you don’t get enough sleep. You’re exhausted, unfocused, and worn out. You struggle to concentrate on your work and you snap at your family and friends. You may eat too much junk, skip your workout, and overreact to stress.

Fatigue wipes you out. But you may not realize that in addition to causing annoying short-term problems, insufficient sleep can affect your health in a more serious way. Chronic lack of sleep can actually increase your risk of a variety of serious health conditions.

Your health care providers at Sound Sleep Health in Seattle and Kirkland, Washington, would like you to know about some of the unexpected health risks associated with insufficient sleep. Read on as we explain how your health can suffer when you don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

1. Alzheimer’s disease

People with Alzheimer’s have a buildup in their brains of beta amyloid, a metabolic waste product. Beta amyloid clumps up into amyloid plaques that impair brain function.

Studies have found that the brain clears beta amyloid out during sleep. Failing to get enough sleep may interfere with that clearing-out process, resulting in a higher Alzheimer’s risk.

2. Weight gain

Research shows that people who get too little sleep tend to weigh more than people who get ample sleep. You know that when you’re exhausted, you’re likely to overeat and talk yourself out of going to the gym. Those choices can lead to weight gain.

Lack of sleep also interferes with the action of hormones associated with hunger and satiety, leading you to eat even when you’re not hungry.

3. Heart disease and stroke

Chronic lack of sleep is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke. Even if you watch your weight, don’t smoke, and get enough exercise, your heart disease risk goes up if you don’t get enough sleep.

Scientists don’t fully understand the link between your heart and your sleep. But they do know that lack of sleep interferes with glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation — all of which are associated with heart function.

4. Type 2 diabetes

Because lack of sleep impairs glucose metabolism, it also affects your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, a disease in which your body doesn’t use blood sugar (glucose) properly. Feeling tired can also cause you to reach for carbohydrate-laden foods that raise blood sugar and lead to weight gain, which also contributes to Type 2 diabetes risk.

5. Hypertension

Studies show links between lack of sleep and hypertension or high blood pressure. Too little sleep can raise your blood pressure, or if you already have hypertension, sleep deprivation can make it worse.

Sleep gives your nervous system important maintenance downtime. A healthy nervous system helps keep your blood pressure in check.

6. Infertility

If you’re trying to conceive, you may want to spend more time in bed — not just for sex, but for sleep.

Studies show connections between sleep and fertility. For example, women having in vitro fertilization who slept for seven to eight hours per night were 15% more likely to get pregnant than those who slept for fewer than seven hours nightly. Lack of sleep increases stress hormones, which could interfere with conception.

Sleep more soundly

If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep, we can help. At Sound Sleep Health, we can make it easier for you to get the rest you need and reduce your risk of health conditions linked to lack of sleep. For diagnosis and treatment of insomnia and other sleep disorders, book a consultation by phone or online.

Exclusively treating patients with sleep issues, our practice is led by renowned board-certified sleep medicine specialist Dr. Gandis G. Mažeika, who trained at Harvard and Duke universities and is a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Dr. Mažeika is also an active member of the National Sleep Foundation.

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