How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Health

Allen Blaivas, M.D. Health Pro June 02, 2008
  • Today let's focus on other health effects of sleep deprivation on the body. It should be noted that much of the research in this area is evolving and we are constantly learning more about the bad effects of sleep loss.

    High Blood Pressure (and possibly diabetes and heart disease?)


    The body senses sleep loss as a “stress-inducing” state, which raises levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and other similar body transmitters. These hormones are what regulate the body’s blood pressure and when these levels are chronically high that may cause blood pressure to be harder to control. Of course, high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. In addition, the ability to control sugar levels, which give our body its necessary fuel to function, seems impaired in people who are have chronic sleep loss. This can lead to diabetes, which also increases the risk of heart disease. We also recognize that a protein in the body called high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, which has been linked to increased risk of heart attack is elevated in patients who are not getting enough sleep. Collectively, it seems that chronic sleep deprivation will probably raise one’s risk of heart disease over the course of a lifetime.


    Immune Function and the Ability to Fight Sickness

    Ever notice that after going through a period of high stress and sleep loss, like when you have deadlines at the office or finals in school, that you tend to develop colds or other infections? This may not be a coincidence. It seems that the immune function, which allows our bodies to fight germs effectively, is weaker when you are not getting enough sleep.

    Pain Tolerance

    We all know that when we get a good nights sleep all those little aches and pains seem to improve. It may not only be that the extra sleep is giving the body extra time to repair itself. Research is revealing that when we don’t get enough sleep, our sensation of pain is more intense.

    Sleep-related Motor Vehicle Accidents


    At least 56,000 car accidents with 40,000 non-fatal injuries and 1,550 deaths occur every year in the US, caused by sleepiness behind the wheel. In fact, excessive sleepiness is the second leading cause of car accidents. Studies have shown that sleepy drivers are impaired at a level equal to that of drunk drivers!

    If that is not enough to convince you not to drive while sleepy, remember Maggie’s Law. This was a law passed in New Jersey in 2003, that states that a sleep-deprived driver qualifies as a reckless driver who can be convicted of vehicular homicide. It was passed after a driver who hadn't slept for 30 hours and had been using drugs crossed three lanes of traffic and struck 20 year old Maggie McDonnell’s car head-on in 1997. The driver was acquitted because his lawyer argued that since there was no law against falling asleep at the wheel, the driver didn’t do anything wrong.

    All in all, my advice to you is, get a good nights sleep!