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Sleep Trouble Can Be Big Trouble

You have insomnia when you can’t fall asleep easily or have trouble staying asleep. Everyone has trouble sleeping at some point. But when it happens at least three times a week for longer than 3 months, you have chronic insomnia. Talk with your doctor if you notice this kind of pattern. Long-term lack of sleep can lead to serious health issues.

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This is different from just feeling tired or like you don’t have much energy. Fatigue is when you’re so exhausted that it affects your work or home life and it’s hard to even get through the day. It’s one of the more common effects of chronic insomnia. It sometimes comes with a headache, dizziness, or sore or weak muscles.

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Mood Issues

A night or two of poor sleep can leave you grumpy and cranky. But longer stretches of sleep loss can cause more extreme emotions and make you more likely to feel angry or sad. Over time, chronic insomnia can lead to a mood disorder, like depression or anxiety. One large study found that those with insomnia were five times more likely to get depression than those who didn’t have trouble sleeping.

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Adults who sleep less than 8 hours a night are more likely to show signs of stress -- like feeling overwhelmed or losing patience easily -- than those who sleep longer, according to the American Psychological Association. They're also more likely to say their stress levels have risen in the past year.

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Brain Performance

That "brain fog" you notice if you don’t sleep well for a night or two can get more serious over time. Sleep disorders like chronic insomnia can make it harder to remember things, concentrate, and make good decisions. Research has shown that getting only 5 hours of sleep a night can lead to poor judgment and more risky behavior in just a week's time.

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Weight Gain

Regularly sleeping less than 7 hours a night may make you more likely to gain weight. Scientists think this may be because sleep loss affects the hormones that control your feelings of hunger and fullness. Long-term lack of sleep could put you at a higher risk for obesity and the health problems linked to it, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

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Less Interest in Sex

Chronic insomnia can affect hormones that control your sex drive, like testosterone. A man’s body makes testosterone while he sleeps. Sleep loss can mean he’ll make less of it. Research has found that losing sleep during the second half of the night seriously reduces testosterone levels in the morning.

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Weaker Immune System

While you sleep, your body releases proteins that help protect you against illness and inflammation. Chronic insomnia can affect that process. It also may reduce the antibodies and cells that help your body fight infection. Studies show that people who don’t get enough good sleep are more likely to get sick if they’re around someone who has a virus like a cold or the flu.

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Losing sleep on a regular basis can affect the way your body processes blood sugar. This raises your risk for diabetes. In one study, adults who slept 5 hours a night or less were 2½ times more likely to get diabetes than those who slept 7-8 hours.

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Heart Disease

Chronic insomnia can also be a problem for your heart. In one study, just one night of very little sleep led to higher blood pressure in healthy adult men. If that happens often over time, high blood pressure could damage your arteries. And it could make your heart work too hard to pump blood to your body. That raises your chances of a heart attack or heart failure.

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Higher Risk of Accidents

Your odds of having some type of accident go up when you have long-term insomnia. That's mostly because of the fatigue and concentration problems that sleep loss can cause. In one study of more than 900 truck drivers, those with insomnia were almost twice as likely to have an accident than others.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 10/11/2021 Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 11, 2021


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American Academy of Sleep Medicine: “Insomnia.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Fatigue,” “Insomnia.”

Department of Health, State Government of Victoria, Australia: “Fatigue.”

Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School: “Sleep and Mood.”

American Psychological Association: “Stress and Sleep.”

Sleep Health Foundation: “Memory, Thinking and Sleep.”

National Health Service (U.K.): “Why Lack of Sleep Is Bad For Your Health.”

Mayo Clinic: “Obesity,” “Lack of Sleep: Can It Make You Sick?”

National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Sexual Dysfunction,” “Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem -- 3. Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders.”

American Heart Association: “Health Threats From High Blood Pressure.”

PLOS One: “Insomnia Is Associated With Road Accidents. Further Evidence From a Study On Truck Drivers.”

Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 11, 2021

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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