We all know smoking is more than just a nasty habit, but new studies indicate that there might be a greater risk to your health: Lack of sleep. Most of us are sleeping less than we should be (and less than we used to be). And if you’re a smoker? Odds are you are sleeping even less.
What Does Sleep Deprivation Do to Us?
Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, while teenagers need closer to 9 (and on a later schedule than most school days allow, but we’ll save that for another day). If we don’t get enough sleep, then we experience a number of health impacts:
Our risk of Alzheimer’s disease as we age increases. Sleep drains toxins from the brain, including the amyloid plaques that cause Alzheimer’s. Volunteers kept awake for extended periods of time showed huge spikes in this molecule. This is just one of the risks of not getting enough sleep.
Our immune systems weaken. Sleep is essential for proper immune functioning. Specifically, it strengthens vital T cells, which destroy infected cells and fight viral and bacterial infection as well as some cancers. T cells do their job better when you are asleep, which is one reason why your body tells you it needs more sleep when you’re sick.
Our risk increases for heart disease, most kinds of cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and even suicide. Suicides spike every year during the first week of Daylight Savings Time. Even the AASM is petitioning to eliminate Daylight Savings Time for this and other reasons.
Our cognition is impaired, in similar ways to getting drunk. After 20 hours of being awake, you experience the same level of impairment as being over the limit. About 100,000 police-reported crashes per year involve drowsy driving. Also, lack of sleep makes us forgetful, especially of things we recently learned.
Do you remember what the first item on this list was? If not, maybe you should look into an at-home sleep study! By the way – pulling an all nighter before that crucial exam is not a good tactic.
Our sex drive is impaired. Not getting enough sleep lowers your libido. This is particularly associated with men who have sleep apnea, as one of the causes is diminishing testosterone as men age.
If you remember the first item on this list, perhaps you’re here because your partner needs a sleep apnea test?
Our skin gets older. “Beauty sleep” isn’t just a saying; the people who coined it no doubt noticed that people who sleep more are more attractive. During deep sleep our system produces human growth hormone, which is vital for healing normal wear and tear.
You’re a smart cookie, you can see that lack of sleep is as detrimental to your health as smoking – and carries some of the same risks.
Why Aren’t We Sleeping Enough?
There are a number of things which contribute to society’s epidemic of sleep deprivation, which include:
Too much virtue being placed on getting by on less sleep and getting up early in the morning. The latter affects teenagers and natural night owls more. Many fitness gurus, for example, advocate getting up at dawn and working out. Society sure knows how to pressure us into sleeping less!
Extremely busy lifestyles that don’t allow enough time for sleep.
Late night screen use, which has been proven to reduce sleep. Smartphones and social media can distract us from sticking to the solid bedtime routine that most people need to get a good night’s sleep.
High levels of stress, which contribute to insomnia and other sleep disorders and can create a vicious cycle (lack of sleep causes depression causes lack of sleep remember our word of the day? BIDIRECTIONAL).
Sleep apnea causes interrupted sleep, and often the affected person does not know their sleep is not of high quality and may experience daytime fatigue and other health problems without understanding why. In many cases, a partner is the one to realize there could be an issue.
For a visual representation of the causes and risks of sleep deprivation, check out our Sleep Health 101 infographic.
We all need to get more sleep, and this starts with accepting that sleeping less is not a virtue and can, in fact, be the exact opposite. Too little sleep makes us forgetful and less productive and can have impacts on our health that are at least as bad, if not worse than smoking. If you or your loved one is suffering from poor sleep, lack of sleep, snoring, or cessation of breath while sleeping, purchase your at-home sleep study today. If you are looking for help to quit smoking, quit.com is a great resource.