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Potential Complications of Insomnia

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 14, 2021

You need good sleep for good health. When you have insomnia, it can affect your quality of life and can also cause health problems.

Short-term insomnia can make it hard to do daily tasks. It’s not only harder to concentrate, but lack of sleep can also ruin your mood. You may feel irritable, sad, and have headaches, too. Your risk of falling, having an accident while driving, and missing work also go up when you’re running on no sleep.

Chronic, or long-term, insomnia can cause other problems. Ongoing lack of sleep keeps your heart, brain, and other parts of your body from working the way they should. This can cause health problems or worsen conditions you already have.

Here’s the role that poor sleep plays in various health conditions:

Asthma. This breathing condition that narrows the airways in your lungs can often make it hard to sleep, but studies show that it goes both ways. When you have ongoing insomnia, your risk for asthma increases over time.

Heart problems. Consistent poor sleep increases your risk for heart problems such as irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and coronary heart disease. Lack of sleep also makes you less likely to exercise and more likely to make poor food choices – neither of which is good for your heart. When you live in a state of sleep deprivation, your average stress level is higher, too, which can also hurt your heart.

Mental health issues. Insomnia makes you 10 times more likely to have depression than someone who gets decent sleep. It also raises your risk for anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Like asthma, this one goes both ways, too. Depression can also cause insomnia. Depression and insomnia together create a vicious cycle.

High blood pressure. Your blood pressure naturally goes down while you sleep. If you get less sleep than you should, your blood pressure stays higher for a larger part of the day. Consistent high blood pressure raises your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Weight gain. Experts think that lack of sleep may affect a part of the brain that controls hunger. When you don’t get enough sleep, you may eat more calories than your body actually needs, which leads to weight gain. You’re at higher risk of obesity as a result.

Lowered immunity. Your body has a harder time fighting off infection when it doesn’t get enough sleep. Too little sleep increases inflammation, which keeps your immune system from working as well as it usually does. Constant inflammation may also be a risk factor for many health conditions.

Diabetes. Chronic insomnia makes you more likely to have poor blood sugar control and develop type 2 diabetes. This is especially true if you’re under age 40. Your risk continues to go up the longer you live with insomnia.

Pregnancy complications. It’s common not to sleep well during pregnancy because of discomfort or frequent trips to the bathroom. But, over time, lack of sleep can cause problems with your pregnancy. You have a higher risk for preterm birth, a C-section, worse labor pain, and pregnancy-related depression. Your baby may also have a low birth weight.

Sex problems. Studies show a link between insomnia and erectile dysfunction in men. Without enough sleep, it’s more difficult to get an erection. For women, getting good sleep increases desire and sexual response.

Substance abuse. When you have trouble sleeping, you may try to bring on sleep with drugs or alcohol. Many sleep medications are also habit-forming. Without enough rest, it’s also harder to stick to a treatment plan to kick unhealthy substance use.

Memory problems. Studies show insomnia may make it harder for you to turn off brain regions that let your mind wander. This can make it hard to concentrate and hurt your short-term memory.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Insomnia.”

European Respiratory Journal: “Prospective study of insomnia and incident asthma in adults: the HUNT study.”

CDC: “How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health?”

Sleep Medicine Reviews: “Insomnia as a predictor of mental disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Depression and Sleep: Understanding the Connection.”

Nature Communications: “The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain.”

Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Review: “Risk of type 2 diabetes in patients with insomnia: A population-based historical cohort study.”

Obstetric Medicine: “Insomnia and sleep deficiency in pregnancy.”

The World Journal of Men’s Health: “Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Sexual Dysfunction.”

European Journal of Ageing: “Association between memory impairment and insomnia among older adults.”

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