Category : World Health Day
Author : Ayesha Syed

Around 40% of adults admit to unintentionally falling asleep at least once a month during the day. Sleep deprivation has become a global silent crisis and is a significant contributor to many health-related issues in human beings.

The glorification of hustle culture has made everything robotic. Humans must work unrelentingly to achieve goals to survive this man-made race. This world is turning into one big machine where every action is meticulously calculated. Our desires and ambitions have reached unprecedented levels.

With only 24 hours a day, people often need to pay more attention to sleep. Sleep is viewed as a barrier and a hindrance to achieving goals. The less time we allocate to sleeping, the more hours we can spend on working and achieving our goals.

According to the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 3 adults in the United States report not getting enough rest or sleep each day. Around 40% of adults admit to unintentionally falling asleep at least once a month during the day. Sleep deprivation has become a global silent crisis & is a significant contributor to many health-related issues in human beings.

Sleep deprivation is often dismissed as a minor inconvenience, but in reality, it impacts almost every aspect of our lives. From the bedroom to the workplace, from the classroom to the hospital, the consequences of inadequate sleep have a major effect on our performance and well-being. In this article, we will look deeper at the different aspects of our day-to-day lives affected by insufficient sleep.

Age Group Recommended Hours of Sleep Per Day
Newborn 0-3 months 14-17 hours (National Sleep Foundation)1
Infant 4-12 months 12-16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)2
Toddler 1-2 years 11-14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)2
Preschool 3-5 years 10-13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)2
School Age 6-12 years 9-12 hours per 24 hours2
Teen 13-18 years 8-10 hours per 24 hours2
Adult 18-60 years 7 or more hours per night3

Consequences of Sleep Deprivation 

Consistent sleep deprivation takes a toll on the human body, leading to far worse consequences than simple tiredness. A good night’s sleep provides psychological benefits and promotes physiological maintenance in the body. When this balance is disrupted over an extended period, many complications occur in the body.
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1) Cardiovascular complications:  Sufficient research has been conducted to establish a relationship between sleep deprivation and cardiovascular complications. Lack of sleep contributes to atherosclerosis and can trigger chronic inflammation, which contributes to plaque formation and hardening of the arteries.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks. In one study, individuals who slept less than six hours per night had a 20% higher chance of experiencing a heart attack. The different stages of sleep help slow down the heart rate and facilitate stress recovery accumulated throughout the day. Insufficient sleep throws off that balance, leading to heart-related issues.

2) Metabolic disruptions: Sleep deprivation is intricately linked to metabolic dysregulation. Individuals who frequently experience disrupted sleep routines or lack of sleep have a higher likelihood of experiencing disturbances in glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, which increases the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Hormonal imbalances induced by lack of sleep also contribute to weight fluctuations and obesity, further aggravating the metabolic system of the body.
Insufficient sleep throws off that balance, leading to heart-related issues.

3) Compromised Immune Function :  Mild illnesses such as the common cold, flu, or even viral infections are often dismissed, and people are advised to ‘just sleep it off’. Proper and adequate sleep works wonders for the human body. If the body lacks sleep, its ability to fight infections becomes compromised.

Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system, leaving the body to defend itself without protective gear. This, in turn, renders individuals more susceptible to illnesses ranging from mild to severe.

4) Hormonal Imbalance :   Sleep helps regulate the body by reducing the inflammation caused by the stress of daily activities. Chronic sleep deprivation disrupts the balance of hormones, including cortisol (stress hormones), growth hormones, and reproductive hormones.

Lack of sleep can lead to various issues in the human body, including impaired stress response, stunted growth and repair processes. Additionally, sleep deprivation can disrupt the menstrual cycle in females.

5) Cognitive Decline :   Long-term sleep deprivation affects an individual’s physical health and significantly impacts the human brain. During sleep, the brain starts sorting the memories acquired throughout the day. If this process is interrupted, individuals may experience memory loss.

Learning, memory consolidation, and problem-solving abilities are compromised when the brain is deprived of the restorative benefits of sleep. Long-term cognitive decline and an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, have been linked to chronic sleep deprivation.

The Toll on Society

The effects of chronic sleep deprivation extend beyond individual health to impact society as a whole. We are currently experiencing a silent pandemic of sleep deprivation. According to Princess Cruises’ ninth annual Relaxation Report, approximately 51% of the world’s adult population claims they get less sleep than they require on an average night. As a society, we are grappling with this debilitating issue, which has a collective impact on all of us.

• Decreased workforce productivity Sleep deprivation not only causes cognitive decline but also leads to impaired decision-making and diminished capacity to focus. In a workplace setting, individuals need to be more attentive to their work, leading to decreased productivity levels. Insufficient sleep also increases the likelihood of errors and workplace accidents. The economic impact of a sleep-deprived workforce is significant, affecting industries and organisations alike.

•  Accidents and Public Safety Concerns  Lack of sleep causes microsleep, during which individuals sleep for a few seconds without realising. Microsleep episodes contribute to fatal accidents on the road because sleep-deprived individuals experience momentary lapses in awareness. Furthermore, fatigue-induced impairment can mimic the effects of alcohol, increasing the likelihood of accidents both on highways and in the workplace.

•  Impact on Education  Students running on low sleep cannot learn and focus in school settings. Their behaviour can disrupt the classroom environment, impacting the learning experience for themselves and their peers. The societal toll of this issue includes a decline in educational outcomes, limiting the future potential of individuals and affecting society at large.

• Strain on Relationships   Poor or insufficient sleep is associated with heightened emotional reactions, decreased empathy, increased feelings of loneliness, and elevated stress levels, among other factors. These issues contribute to strained relationships within families and social circles. As a result, individuals may become isolated and disconnected from society. With sleep deprivation being an ever-increasing global issue, one can imagine how it could cripple societies and lead them to become epicentres of isolation and loneliness.

Sleep Among Different Age Groups 

Sleep duration and pattern change throughout life, from birth to old age. Sleep quality also varies across different stages of life. Sleep deprivation is a common issue that affects individuals across all age groups.

• Infants and Children :  

Sleep is crucial for children’s physical and mental development. During infancy, it’s normal for children to wake up multiple times during the night for feeding and diaper changes due to their natural sleep-wake cycles.

As children age, establishing a proper bedtime routine to encourage them to go to bed at a set time should be a priority. Promoting healthy sleeping habits from childhood is vital for their overall well-being in later stages.

Excessive screen time, irregular bedtimes, and academic pressure can disrupt young children’s sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation in young children can lead to behavioural issues, learning difficulties, and impaired cognitive development.

• Adolescents and Teenagers :  

Adolescence is characterised by numerous changes in the body, including shifts in sleep patterns towards later bedtimes and waking times. However, societal pressure, academic stress, and electronic devices can disrupt adolescents’ sleep-wake cycle, leading to insufficient sleep.

It is important to have open conversations with adolescents regarding the importance of sleep and the possible effects sleep deprivation can have on their bodies. Promoting healthy sleep hygiene practices can also mitigate the impact of sleep deprivation during this critical stage of development.

• Adults

Adults face various life challenges, including work, family responsibilities, and lifestyle factors, which can adversely affect their sleep patterns. Chronic sleep deprivation in adults can lead to various health-related issues that can impact not only the individual but also society as a whole.
Implementing workplace policies that prioritise employees’ well-being, promoting work-life balance, and fostering a culture that values sleep can help mitigate the impact of sleep deprivation in adults.

• Older Adults Ageing brings about various changes in the body, including alterations in sleep patterns. Reduction in the total sleep time, changes in sleep quality, and an increased prevalence of sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea are common issues among older adults. Sleep deprivation in this age group is associated with an increased risk of falls, cognitive decline, and overall reduced quality of life.

Regularly consulting the doctors for overall health check-ups should be a part of the routine so that any underlying health issues can be handled properly.

Optimising the sleep environment and routine and promoting physical activity are strategies that can help reduce sleep disturbances in older adults and potentially enhance sleep quality.

Conclusion 

‘Health is wealth’ rings true, as individuals cannot perform at their best if their health is not optimal. It is crucial to understand the importance of sleep and how it impacts every fabric of human life. Workplaces should prioritise wellness programmes and encourage their employees to prioritise their health. Offering flexible work arrangements, including remote work options and scheduling flexibility, can help employees manage their sleep schedules better.

We need to realise the severity of chronic sleep deprivation and how it is affecting almost half of the population globally. Acknowledging sleep disorders as legitimate health concerns can help individuals receive the necessary care to improve their sleep and overall health.

References :

The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease
https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/physrev.00010.2018

How disrupted sleep may lead to heart disease
https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-disrupted-sleep-may-lead-heart-disease

Sleep duration and myocardial infarction
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31488267/

Sleep Deprivation
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/23970-sleep-deprivation

How Sleep Works
https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-facts-statistics#:~:text=According%20to%20estimates%2C%2050%20million,%2C%20sleep%20apnea%2C%20and%20narcolepsy.

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