Getting adequate sleep is just as vital to overall health and well-being as exercising and having a healthy diet. Sleep helps the body and mind feel restored and refreshed for the following day. It helps people retain new information, work productively, maintain attention and alertness (like when driving), and accomplish necessary tasks throughout the day. That’s because while sleeping, the body produces proteins that restore damaged cells and secretes hormones that help regulate appetite and metabolism.
While many factors influence the quality and duration of sleep, poor sleeping habits, sleep disorders (e.g., insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy), medications and stress are some of the most common issues that keep people awake at night. More than 40 million Americans experience one of the 70 types of sleep disorders each year, and nearly all people have experienced short-term insomnia at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
A substantial percentage of U.S. adults are not getting enough sleep
A new study conducted by Anne G. Wheaton, Ph.D., and colleagues from the Division of Population Health at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that 35 percent of American adults reported that they get less than seven hours of sleep per night.
The new study, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), investigated the prevalence of healthy sleep duration (at least seven hours of sleep per night) among 444,306 Americans who participated in the 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).
The results indicated that more than a third of all adults living in the United States reported having less than seven hours of sleep per night. In fact, the researchers found that among the respondents:
- 11.8 percent reported five or less hours of sleep per night
- 23 percent reported six hours of sleep per night
- 29.5 percent reported seven hours of sleep per night
- 27.7 percent reported eight hours of sleep per night
- 4.4 percent reported nine hours of sleep per night
- 3.6 percent reported 10 or more hours of sleep per night
The findings of the CDC’s study suggested that nearly two-thirds, or an estimated 83.6 million, adults living in the United States are getting seven or fewer hours of sleep per night, which means that a significant number of people are at risk for a number of negative physical and mental health consequences that result from not getting enough sleep.
Consequences of sleep deprivation on cognitive function
Lack of adequate sleep can have detrimental consequences on physical and mental health. For one thing, sleep deprivation can have negative consequences on the brain’s ability to function properly.
Not only are people with sleep deprivation more likely to wake up feeling fatigued, groggy, moody and irritable, they are also much more likely to experience emotional distress and poor quality of life.
Among individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions, sleep deprivation can actually make these conditions worse. For example, sleep deprivation can increase an individual’s susceptibility for developing depressive disorders and can trigger mania in those who have bipolar disorder.
One study even found that 24 hours of sleep deprivation can even induce symptoms of psychosis, including perceptual distortions, cognitive disorganization and anhedonia (i.e., the inability to experience pleasure) in healthy participants.
In the short term, sleep deprivation can also affect a person’s ability to stay alert, make decisions, think clearly, process new information and learn new things. Having difficulty maintaining attention and alertness may have additional consequences, including:
- Lower productivity at work
- A greater vulnerability to accidents, falls and injuries
- A higher risk of accidental death
Sleep deprivation can also impair aspects of cognition, including a global decline in general alertness and attention, and a general slowing of response speed, reported William D.S. Killgore, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) Lab at McLean Hospital.
Major health consequences of sleep deprivation
Numerous studies have found that sleep deprivation is associated with problems such as weight gain, metabolic abnormalities and greater insulin resistance, which can increase the risk for chronic health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
The CDC also reported that some of the common chronic diseases and conditions associated with poor sleep quality include the following:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular diseases (e.g., hypertension, stroke, cardiac arrhythmias and coronary heart disease)
- Mental health conditions such as substance use, anxiety and depressive disorders
People who sleep fewer than seven to eight hours of sleep per night are more likely to experience a plethora of physical and mental health consequences, including an increased risk for chronic medical conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, depression and heart disease. Those who are not getting adequate sleep at night might need to consider the consequences that this is having on their physical and mental health.
Sleep is a vital aspect of health and well-being. As a leading provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment, Sovereign Health of California offers a variety of therapy options for patients to improve their sleep habits, including mind-body techniques such as meditation, yoga and exercise, as part of our holistic behavioral health treatment services provided to patients with mental illnesses, eating disorders and alcohol and drug addiction. For more information about the treatment programs offered at Sovereign Health of California, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.
About the author
Amanda Habermann is a writer for the Sovereign Health Group. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. She brings to the team her background in research, testing and assessment, diagnosis and recovery techniques. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.