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Lack of sleep: the 9 most dangerous consequences

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  • How is lack of sleep noticeable?
  • How much sleep is ideal?
  • When does lack of sleep become dangerous?
  • What are common causes of too little sleep?
  • What can I do about lack of sleep?
  • These 9 things happen when you don’t sleep enough
  • Conclusion: Sleep is a top priority

“I can always sleep another time” shouldn’t become your motto in life. Anyone who frequently watches series or plays games on consoles late into the night must expect serious health consequences. Chronic lack of sleep takes its toll. We’ll explain how too short a night’s rest not only sabotages your training, your work and even your sex life, but also seriously endangers your health.

How is lack of sleep noticeable?

Even from one sleepless night, your mood, concentration, attention and performance can suffer from sleep deprivation. Especially if your work is a bit monotonous, you pay the price for the sleepless night: “In monotonous situations, your thoughts often wander and you have to struggle with microsleep,” warns Dr. Hans-Günter Weeß, board member of the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine (DGSM). If you are easily annoyed by small things, this could also be a sign of lack of sleep.

How much sleep is ideal?

“Our genes tell us how much we should sleep,” says Dr. Weeß, author of the book Sleep Works Miracles. On average, around 7 hours is enough for men. It’s best to test for yourself how much sleep you need to feel fit and refreshed. 6 hours should be the minimum. On average, men need around 20 minutes less sleep than women.

When does lack of sleep become dangerous?

This also varies greatly from person to person. The expert’s recommendation: “If you haven’t slept enough three times a week for four weeks, you should seek medical advice if necessary.” In the short term, your body can compensate for lack of sleep, but if it becomes permanent, the risk of serious long-term consequences increases enormously.

What are common causes of too little sleep?

The problem, according to Dr. Weeß in our 24-hour, non-stop society: “We don’t value sleep,” says the sleep researcher. The job, the hobbies and even the chats with friends are too often preferred over a good night’s sleep. Smartphones, monitors and televisions can also be real sleep robbers: “The blue light content of the screens suppresses the production of the sleep messenger melatonin,” explains the expert. “In addition, there is the increased tension caused by chatting, surfing or Internet games, which then completely banishes sleep.”

What can I do about lack of sleep?

Start by setting priorities: Especially if you are already overloaded with your job, you should avoid the series marathon in the evening. It’s better to give yourself some rest in the evening and, above all, leave your cell phone behind. If you have sleep problems, you should get to the bottom of the causes: Some medications and illnesses can affect your sleep.

These helpers to fall asleep and stay asleep have proven themselves:

    • Sleep masks prevent light from reaching the eyes and in this way promote the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which allows you to fall asleep more quickly.
    • Earplugs ensure that you sleep peacefully despite the surrounding noise.
    • Valerian capsules relax you at night, are not addictive and are therefore more recommended than sleeping pills. However, they only work after you have taken them regularly for a while.
    • Sleep sprays with calming ingredients such as melatonin, passionflower and lemon balm help you fall asleep faster.
    • Relaxing voice apps like Headspace, sung by rapper Curse and soul singer Joy Denalane, make you tired and allow you to easily drift off to sleep.
    • Sleep headphones are ideal for anyone who wants relaxing sounds and sleep-inducing music to help them fall asleep more easily.

These 9 things happen when you don’t sleep enough

Lack of sleep is a widespread problem: According to the 2017 health report from DAK-Gesundheit, 80 percent of the employed people surveyed said they had sleep problems – there is even talk of it being a widespread disease. And the corona pandemic has caused the number of people with sleep problems to continue to rise. One thing is certain: too little sleep makes you sick. These 9 most dangerous consequences will definitely make you appreciate your sleep more:

1. Your immune system is weakened.

Do you often have colds? Then you’re probably not beating yourself up long enough. Lack of sleep has been proven to have a negative effect on both your immune system and your body’s inflammation levels. It’s enough if you get more than 2 hours less sleep every day for 14 days: “Studies show that one in two people develop a cold,” says Dr. Weeß. For comparison: among the test subjects who were well rested, it was only one in six. This is how sleep supports the fight against viruses

2. You are less productive.

If you show up to work tired, no one will thank you. Sleepless nights not only affect your concentration, attention and creativity, your memory also suffers. There’s no way you’ll be able to reach your peak performance. In some situations, according to our expert, this can even be really dangerous: “Twice as many people die on German roads due to fatigue than as a result of drinking and driving.” Even less than 6 hours of sleep can affect your movement and reaction times.

3. You gain excess weight more quickly.

A serious consequence: disturbed sleep at night really messes up your hormonal balance and causes you to gain pounds. Anyone who often doesn’t sleep enough probably knows the urge to binge eat all too well. The body then produces more of the craving hormone ghrelin and at the same time less leptin, which regulates appetite. A study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey makes weight gain clear: with a maximum of 4 hours of sleep, the study participants were 73 percent more likely to be overweight than with 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

4. You risk a heart attack.

In the long run, your heart won’t forgive you for the lack of sleep: “Numerous studies show that disturbed sleep is associated with cardiovascular diseases,” says sleep expert Weeß. A study by the European Society of Cardiology showed that men who regularly slept 5 hours or less at night had twice the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Lack of sleep can cause dangerous chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias and, in the worst case, even a heart attack. These are the first signs of a heart attack.

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5. Stress and headaches increase.

Lack of sleep increases the release of cortisol. The hormone begins to cause confusion in the body, causing the metabolism to break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Consequences: stress and headaches. Conversely, stress can also disrupt your ability to fall asleep – so you quickly end up in a real vicious circle. Prevent this by walking more. Studies by the Charité in Berlin show that running training increases cortisol resistance.

6. Lack of sleep can make you mentally ill.

If you’re constantly overtired, a bad mood is the least of your problems. Because: A common consequence of chronic sleep disorders is mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. “The sleep disorder is the first symptom that can precede depression and, conversely, is the last to disappear with treatment,” explains Dr. Weeß. This will help you with depression.

7. Your risk of diabetes increases.

Insulin injections could soon become part of everyday life for chronic sleepers: Diabetes is one of the most dangerous consequences of lack of sleep. Researchers reported in the medical journal The Lancet Diabetes Endorinology a connection between too little sleep and metabolic diseases. The result: After just a few nights with a maximum of 4 hours of sleep, the test subjects clearly reduced their blood sugar more slowly. According to the scientists’ analysis, severe sleep deprivation also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. You can read more tips on how to prevent diabetes here. But: late risers (more than 8 hours of sleep per night) are just as at risk. Too much sleep is also taboo.

8. Testosterone production and muscle building are disrupted.

If you want to watch your muscles grow, you need to get enough sleep in the evening. After a sleepless night, the body produces significantly less of some messenger substances, including testosterone (every man should know this about the male hormone). Dr. Weeß: “Athletes should make sure that in addition to their job and workout, they also get enough sleep – because it is essential for building muscle.”

9. Your risk of death increases.

Men have a big disadvantage: “Statistically, older men lose deep sleep. Therefore, it is also discussed whether they have a shorter life expectancy because they lack restful sleep,” says Dr. Weeß. At the same time, diseases caused by too little sleep, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, also reduce life expectancy. But: “Not just too little sleep, but also too much sleep can reduce life expectancy,” says the sleep expert.

Conclusion: Sleep is a top priority

Sleepless nights not only make you tired in the short term, but also make you sick in the long term. Sleep should be at the top of your priority list. “The best thing to do is to throw the alarm clock out the window,” the expert advises jokingly. Have you been neglecting your sleep too much lately? Then off to bed!

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