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The dangerous effects of sleep deprivation

The dangerous effects of sleep deprivation

Not getting enough shuteye at night can not only make you feel rubbish the next day, it can actually be dangerous, especially if it happens a lot. Here we look at five ways that a lack of sleep can be hazardous.

Chronic medical problems

If you’re getting poor sleep on a regular basis, you’re putting yourself at risk of a range of serious medical problems. Various chronic conditions, including obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, have been linked to a lack of slumber. And if you already have a chronic health condition, sleeping badly may make it worse. For example, just one night of inadequate sleep in people who have hypertension can cause raised blood pressure the next day, according to Harvard University.

Early death

Worryingly, insufficient sleep is thought to increase the risk of premature death. Research carried out by the University of Warwick and the Federico II University medical school suggested that people who consistently sleep for less than six hours a night are 12% more likely to experience a premature death over a 25-year period than those who consistently slept for six to eight hours each night.

Mood disorders

A bad night’s rest can make you feel irritable and temperamental the following day, so it may come as no surprise that a chronic lack of sleep has been linked to a variety of mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. If left untreated, these conditions can have disastrous consequences for sufferers and their loved ones.

Road accidents

You may have seen signs reminding you that ‘Tiredness can kill’ on the motorways in the UK. Unfortunately, the statement is true. Driver fatigue is a major contributory factor in road accidents. A lack of sleep or disturbed sleep can significantly affect attention levels, awareness and reaction times, making driving while tired like dicing with death. According to research, almost 20% of accidents on major roads are sleep-related and these types of accidents are more likely to result in fatality or serious injury.

Accidents at work

If you’ve ever had to go to work after a very poor night’s sleep, you probably know that tiredness can affect your ability to do your job effectively. Sleep deprivation can cause many problems that can hinder performance, including slow reactions, difficulty processing information, inattention, decreased awareness and reduced coordination. This means that fatigued workers are more likely to make errors and cause accidents and injuries. In fact, fatigue is thought to cost the UK £115 – £240 million per year in terms of workplace accidents, and worldwide there have been a variety major workplace incidents where a lack of sleep is thought to be a contributory factor, including the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy.

If you’re not getting the rest you need every night, all this might make you feel a bit despondent. However, there is hope. By improving your sleep hygiene (e.g. going to bed and getting up at the same time every night, avoiding stimulants like nicotine and caffeine, getting enough exercise during the day), ensuring you have a bed that meets your specific needs, a supportive mattress and comfortable pillows and sheets, you can improve your chances of getting forty winks. If you’ve cleaned up your sleep routine and created the ideal sleep environment and are still having difficulty drifting off, it may be worth consulting a doctor as your lack of sleep may be due to an underlying cause that can be treated medically.