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Can Sleep Deprivation Kill You?

By Manjari Bansal
Prolonged sleep deprivation increases your risk for a number of disorders that can contribute to mortality.

Insufficient sleep may seem like a small issue, but it can wreak havoc on your health in significant and surprising ways. In fact, many studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases the risk of several serious health issues which may even lead to an early death. Read on for more details about mortality and sleep deprivation.  

Death By Sleep Deprivation: Fact or Fiction?

Although everyone needs a different amount of sleep to feel refreshed, most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day. However, sleep deprivation is a widespread problem and around 35% of adult Americans sleep less than 7 hours per day, the American Thoracic Society reports.

According to a 2018 literature review published in the journal Healthcare, a lack of sleep demonstrably increases the risk of premature death. Researchers examined relevant data and found that people getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep each night had a ten times higher risk of premature death than those sleeping for 7 to 9 hours per night.

Additionally, there is considerable evidence suggesting that insufficient sleep can cause a host of diseases and mental health issues. In fact, inadequate sleep duration has been linked to 7 out of 15 leading causes of death in America—including cardiovascular disease, cancerous tumors, cerebrovascular disease, accidents, diabetes, septicemia, and high blood pressure.

But is there a linear link between sleep deprivation and death? “Death from sleep deprivation is most likely to occur indirectly,” Holly Schiff, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Jewish Family Services of Greenwich, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“Being sleep-deprived increases every other risk we face, such as the risk of accidents. You are more likely to die if you are driving while sleep-deprived. Slips, trips, and falls are all more likely if you are lacking sleep, as well as the increased risk of stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and risk of suicide,” Schiff explains.

Additionally, Abhinav Singh, MD, medical director at Indiana Sleep Center, tells WebMD Connect to Care that short sleep duration is linked with the following issues:

  • Higher rates of cardiovascular disease, due to increased calcium deposits that eventually lead to coronary blockages
  • Mental health disorders like anxiety and depression
  • An increased likelihood of metabolic dysfunction, as weight gain and insulin resistance related to sleep deprivation potentially contribute to the development of diabetes
  • Reduced immunity against diseases

So, while sleep deprivation by itself may not be a direct cause of death in many circumstances, it’s clear that inadequate sleep can increase the likelihood of developing a number of serious issues that can each, in turn, contribute to mortality.

If you feel that insufficient sleep is impacting your daily life and wellbeing, it’s worthwhile to consider undergoing a sleep study to obtain a definitive diagnosis and learn about your treatment options.  

Think you may have a sleep disorder? Start your journey to more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.