Not Enough Sleep: 7 Serious Health Risks
Obesity, heart disease, diabetes ... the list goes on.
Late-night binges on chips and cookies don’t just happen because they’re easy snacks. The body’s balance of two appetite hormones gets off-kilter when a person needs more sleep, even after one night.
The good hormone, called leptin, goes down. Because it controls appetite, people get hungrier. The bad hormone, ghrelin, goes up. “It’s a hormone produced by fat cells, and it indicates you need to get more fat calories,” says Clete Kushida, MD, PhD, RPSGT, a neurologist and sleep specialist at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic in California. “The more ghrelin you have, the more you want to eat.”
Quan is quick to point out that these two hormones may not be the only issue at play when it comes to sleep and obesity. “It may be a factor that people who don’t sleep well may not exercise as well,” he says.
In a recent study published in the journal Sleep, researchers from Case Western Reserve University found that teenagers who slept less than eight hours a night ate more fattening foods and snacks and less carbohydrates.
Teens need about nine hours of sleep a night.
Quan has spent several years studying a group of children in Tucson, Ariz. “The ones who sleep less have increased risk of being overweight five years later,” he says.
2. Heart disease
People who choose not to get enough sleep or get eight hours but have a sleep disorder have more stress hormones in their bodies, a condition that’s bad for the heart over the long run, Shives says. Stress hormones can damage blood vessels. This can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to heart disease.
The connection isn’t just between lack of sleep and high blood pressure. “We’re starting to have evidence with a strong association between sleep deprivation and heart disease,” she says.
If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), sleep deprivation can make it worse. “The activation of the nervous system by sleep deprivation is one of the stronger effects and has stronger effects on someone who has hypertension,” Kushida says.
And if you’re a man, the returns are even worse. Both intentional lack of sleep and that due to sleep apnea have shown to increase men’s risk for heart disease and death.
In a 2007 study published in Sleep Medicine Review, researchers from the University of Chicago found that “partial sleep loss may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes via multiple pathways.”After one night of sleep deprivation, the body has an impaired ability to handle a glucose load. This, along with appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin, has been connected to diabetes.
The link between sleep deprivation and diabetes is complex because diabetes has also been linked to obesity, which in turn has been linked back to sleep deprivation. Ultimately, lack of sleep “might lead to diabetes,” Kushida says.