Insomnia itself is not life threatening, but it can increase the risk of accidents, psychiatric problems, and certain medical conditions, affect school and work performance, and significantly interfere with quality of life. Lack of sleep can cause weight gain and obesity.
Increased Risk of Accidents
Sleepiness increases the risk for motor vehicle accidents. Studies indicate that drowsy driving is as risky as drunk driving.
Quality of Life
Surveys show that people with severe insomnia have a quality of life that is almost as poor as those who have chronic conditions, such as heart failure. Daytime sleepiness can lead to decreased energy, irritability, mistakes at work and school, and poorer relationships.
Thinking and Performance
Insomnia makes it harder to concentrate and perform tasks. Deep sleep deprivation impairs the brain's ability to process information and reduces concentration.
Although stress and depression are major causes of insomnia, insomnia may also increase the activity of the hormones and pathways in the brain that are associated with mental health problems. Chronic insomnia may increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety.
Even modest alterations in waking and sleeping patterns can have significant effects on a person's mood. In both children and adults, the combination of insomnia and daytime sleepiness can produce more severe depression than either condition alone.
Review Date: 06/11/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.