Not Enough Sleep: 7 Serious Health Risks
Obesity, heart disease, diabetes ... the list goes on.
The chemistry behind the link between headaches and sleep isn't clear. But that doesn't mean it's not real.
“Headache is a symptom of sleep deprivation, but more commonly, it can trigger headaches in predisposed individuals,” Kushida says. This can especially be true of migraine sufferers.
Headaches are “part of what it means to feel bad if you’re sleep deprived,“ Shives says.
The same brain chemicals involved in the sleep-wake cycle are also involved in mood and energy concentration. But scientists aren’t exactly sure how they all work together.
“Everybody knows you feel like crap if you don’t get enough sleep,” Shives says. “But mapping it out neurochemically, well, nobody’s done that. It’s why we don’t have a great pill for insomnia.”
6. Lapses of attention/delayed reaction times
Sleep deprivation has been linked to decreases in all types of neurologic functions. Students who don’t get enough sleep can do worse on tests. Employees who skimp can be more irritable to their co-workers. And when they get behind the wheel to head home, the combination can be lethal.
Just like drinking and driving don’t mix, driving with less than optimal hours of sleep is also dangerous. Shives has experienced the combination firsthand. As a junior doctor, she drove “after working 30, 36 hours. It was painful, painful driving home. And I was definitely worse than someone who has had three or four drinks. It was bad.”
In a 2010 study published in Sleep, researchers from the University of Warwick in the U.K. found an association between early death and both too little and too much habitual sleep.
“Short sleep duration has been linked to earlier mortality,” Kushida says. The link is stronger for people, especially men, who have sleep apnea, but it’s also been linked to men who sleep less in general.
Again, an association doesn’t prove cause and effect. So this study doesn't show that too little or too much sleep was deadly.
Go to Bed
All these conditions can be related to sleep in one way or another. In many cases, the effects are only seen after years of sleep loss. But in others, like delayed reaction times, glucose load, depression, headaches, and hormone balances, can be affected after one night of sleeping six hours or less.
But what about those people who say they can easily get by on five hours? It’s actually “the opinion of sleep doctors that there are some people who only need five hours,” Shives says, “but that’s 5% of the population or fewer. And you still wonder if it’s best for them, given the research.”
The best way to figure out how much sleep you need is to take a vacation. “Climb into bed when you’re sleepy and get up when you want,” Quan says. “The goal is that you don’t feel sleepy during the daytime and you’re functioning well.”