Lack of sleep: health effects, alarming symptoms

Adequate sleep is important for physical and emotional health. Its absence can lead to numerous short and long term consequences. Despite the well-known recommendations, statistics show that about 35% of the world’s population suffers from chronic lack of sleep. The first symptoms of sleep deprivation appear within 24 hours of sleep deprivation. So how many people can go without sleep, what consequences can be expected, and what symptoms should be considered alarming?

How long can you stay awake?

The need for adequate sleep varies, depending on age and some other characteristics. For example, babies need twice as much sleep as adults. How many people can live without sleep is an interesting question and takes many minds. Some say that life expectancy without sleep is much shorter than without water, for others there is no data. But according to a 2010 survey, the current world record is 266 hours without sleep, or 11 days. After a few days of sleep deprivation, the patient suffered from hallucinations, but as soon as the opportunity to sleep was given, all alarming symptoms were eliminated, and there were no distant and immediate health consequences.

Symptoms of lack of sleep

Lack of sleep is talked about when a person sleeps less than is required, and the consequences vary. Common symptoms of sleep deprivation include:  

  • fatigue;
  • sleepiness during the day;
  • decreased concentration;
  • memory problems;
  • lack of coordination;
  • increased appetite;
  • mood swings, irritability.

According to research, chronic lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing a number of diseases: overweight and obesity, diabetes, heart and vascular disease.

Sleep deprivation and risks to life

Sleep deprivation can indeed be fatal, and there can be several scenarios for the development of events. According to some reports, if full sleep is absent for even a day, this can cause dangerous accidents and fatal accidents, in which not only the patients themselves, but also those around them suffer.

There is also an extremely rare sleep disorder called fatal insomnia. The name itself contains the cause and outcome of the disease. At the heart of a hereditary disease is a mutation in the gene of a certain protein. The mutated gene produces misfolded proteins called prions, which accumulate in the thalamus, the region of the brain that regulates sleep. This condition is dangerous not only for health, but also for life, and the symptoms include:

  • insomnia, which gets worse over time;
  • weight loss;
  • lack of appetite;
  • changes in body temperature;
  • impairment of cognitive functions, which only progress over time and can lead to dementia.

To date, there is no cure for the disease, and death usually occurs within 12-18 months after the first symptoms appear.

Lack of sleep: health implications

All possible health consequences depend on how long it is absent. After 24 hours, the first symptoms appear, and in the United States, patients deprived of sleep during this time are prohibited from driving. Health consequences can be considered:

  • increased sleepiness;
  • irritability and mood swings;
  • difficulty concentrating;
  • lack of coordination;
  • increased stress hormones in the blood;
  • high risk of accidents.

Sleep deprivation and chronic sleep deprivation disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle, which affects hormones that regulate:

  • growth;
  • appetite;
  • metabolic processes;
  • stress level;
  • the work of the immune system.

Lack of sleep for 48 hours

All possible health effects are amplified and varied with longer sleep deprivation. Cognitive functions are impaired after 48 hours, which affects the quality of life.

At this point, the brain begins to “sink” into brief periods of full-fledged unconsciousness, which is known as microsleep . It occurs involuntarily and can last for several seconds.

If there is no sleep for 72 hours

Lack of sleep for 3 days further affects the patient’s mood and well-being. One study from 2015 found that two astronauts experienced cognitive impairment, increased heart rate, and decreased positive emotions 72 hours after sleep deprivation. Symptoms include:

  • severe tiredness;
  • inability to solve complex problems;
  • serious problems with concentration and memory;
  • depression;
  • significant difficulties in communicating with others.

Short and Long Term Health Effects

The health effects of lack of sleep are not the same. The most “harmless” can be considered short-term consequences, they disappear as soon as sleep is restored. Symptoms include:  

  • drowsiness;
  • decreased concentration of attention;
  • short-term memory problems;
  • stress, depression;
  • increased risk of accidents.

The long-term consequences of lack of sleep include:

  • high blood pressure;
  • due to increased appetite, there is a risk of gaining excess weight and obesity;
  • development of diabetes mellitus, heart and vascular diseases;
  • anxiety, depression. 

It is worth remembering that the health consequences for children and adults can be different.

Sleep hygiene tips

When people talk about full-fledged sleep, they mean not only its quantity, but also its quality. By following all the rules, you can protect yourself from any consequences. Sleep hygiene tips include:

  • strict adherence to the schedule of sleep and wakefulness: go to bed and wake up at the same time, including on weekends and holidays;
  • remove all light sources from the bedroom, you can only sleep in bed;
  • maintain a comfortable temperature in the bedroom;
  • do not drink coffee and other stimulating drinks at night;
  • observe the ritual of going to bed;
  • lead an active lifestyle, avoid physical activity before bedtime; 
  • exclude daytime sleep.

Health is directly related to the quality of sleep. Numerous studies show that sleep deprivation is associated with excess weight, obesity, an increased risk of developing serious heart and vascular diseases, diabetes, etc.

event_note February 11, 2021

account_box Winona Tse MD

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