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March 08, 2019

More than Beauty Sleep: Why Being Tired is Bad for Your Health  

Joyce Knestrick, PhD, CRNP, FAANP

We’ve all been tired, but consistent lack of sleep (and by lack, I mean getting fewer than seven or eight hours a night) is bad for your health.  

For some people, sleep is what they do with their spare time. For others, sleep disorders keep them awake at night. Up to 60 percent of people have trouble sleeping, and one in three adults is sleep-deprived

Sleep problems have gotten worse as screens have become more popular and we try to cram more into each 24-hour cycle. Our always-on culture and reluctance to unplug at night make it harder to find time to sleep, and to fall asleep. Experts blame blue light for depleting melatonin and making it harder to unwind, and due to later bedtimes, we don’t have enough hours in the day to allow for later wake times to compensate.  

Our kids are not resting easy either. Early school start times, demanding curriculums, social media, overscheduling and over-connectivity are ensuring that bad sleep habits will be ingrained in the next generation too. Today, only two percent of teens get enough sleep, and the rest will likely grow up to be sleep-deprived adults. 

Being tired isn’t the only (or worst) consequence of lack of sleep, however. Here are six scary things that happen when you’re sleep deprived. 

  1. Your mood changes. People with insomnia are 10 times more likely to be depressed and almost 20 times more likely to have anxiety.
  2. You’re more accident-prone. Sleeping fewer than four hours makes you 15 times more likely to cause a car crash—the same odds for someone driving with a blood alcohol level 1.5 times the legal limit.
  3. You’re more likely to get sick. People who get fewer than six hours of sleep a night are more than four times as likely to catch a cold.
  4. You have a higher risk of diabetes. Just six hours of sleep loss causes elevated blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and a change in liver enzymes, all of which are linked to diabetes.
  5. You’re more likely to be overweight. Inadequate sleep disrupts hormones that regulate metabolism, and just one week of getting only five hours of sleep a night causes an average weight gain of two pounds
  6. You’re more prone to heart disease. Not getting enough sleep raises your risk for heart disease by an astounding 70 percent.   

Adults sleep less than they did 100 years ago—or even 13 years ago—and this trend is bad for our health. If you’re a night owl but tend to drag during the day, you may not be getting enough sleep. Snap out of your sleepless daze by powering down earlier each night, setting a firm bedtime and keeping a consistent sleep schedule to ensure you’re getting enough rest. 

If sleep is still an issue for you, make an appointment with your local nurse practitioner (NP) to help you get to the bottom of your sleep troubles. Being tired is frustrating, but the health problems caused by lack of sleep are downright alarming. So wake up and get help—before it’s too late.