Chronic sleep deprivation in children can have the same health consequences as adults. In them, lack of sleep also makes itself felt through the typical ADHD symptoms (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). These include a short attention span, a limited ability to concentrate, restlessness, learning difficulties and often also problems in the social area such as an increased willingness to be aggressive.Did you know that one in five traffic accidents is caused by lack of sleep? This already shows how overtired many people are today. If you then believe the latest data, then good sleep is anything but everyday life in German bedrooms. Around 80% of Germans suffer from bad or insufficient sleep more frequently. This is alarming. According to the World Health Organization, lack of sleep is one of the greatest threats to our health.
What is sleep deprivation?
Lack of sleep always occurs when we have not slept enough or our sleep has been disturbed. We can either have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Some people also have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep at the same time. We all know sleepless nights. They are normal and, if they occur intermittently, do not pose a threat to our health. It only becomes a concern if you suffer from frequent lack of sleep or if the sleep disorder - as in the case of insomnia - becomes chronic. Then there are real dangers to your health.
The causes of lack of sleep
The causes of sleep disorders are diverse and range from psychological stress - such as performance and time pressure at work or partnership problems - to physical illnesses such as sleep apnea (nocturnal breathing disorders with snoring) or high blood pressure.
How much sleep is healthy?
Sleep physicians consider a sleep duration of 7 to 8 hours per night to be optimal. Because if you sleep that long, your body has enough time to do all the work that it primarily does at night. This includes regeneration work such as repairing damaged cells, boosting the immune system, detoxifying the body and much more. With this amount of sleep you create the best conditions for staying healthy or for initiating the healing process in the event of an illness. A sleep duration of more than 8 hours is also not recommended by sleep physicians. According to studies, too much sleep can also have a negative effect on your health and even lead to a shorter life expectancy.
Consequences of lack of sleep
The World Health Organization has declared lack of sleep to be one of the greatest health threats of the 21st century. The consequences of chronic lack of sleep can be devastating. It's not just physical illnesses that come about. Your emotional and mental health are also damaged if insomnia or short sleep periods last longer. In addition, persistent sleep problems worsen the symptoms of many pre-existing conditions or cause acute symptoms to become chronic conditions.
Physical illnesses caused by lack of sleep
lack of sleep and the flu
If you suffer from a constant lack of sleep, your immune system is weakened. Because the poor quality of sleep reduces the number of antibodies, so that viruses or bacteria can penetrate the body more easily via the mucous membranes. This makes you more susceptible to infections such as the flu or a cold with a runny nose, cough or sore throat. If, on the other hand, you sleep sufficiently and well, a particularly large number of antibodies are formed in your body. Your immune system is well-armed against enemies.
In addition, poor sleep also leads to poorer immune memory. This means that if you don't sleep enough, your immune system is less able to remember past infections and, as a result, react less well to the germs when you come into contact again. According to research, a person with chronic sleep deprivation (less than 5 hours of sleep) has a 45% risk of getting the flu from exposure to influenza pathogens. In people who sleep more than 7 hours, this risk is around 20%.
Because the immune system is weakened by lack of sleep, the symptoms of all immune system-related diseases can worsen as soon as the lack of sleep lasts longer or becomes chronic. This applies to allergies and asthma as well as to autoimmune diseases or herpes.
Lack of sleep and obesity
Sleeping not only makes you beautiful, it also keeps you slim. This is not only a folk wisdom, but also scientifically proven. When you sleep less, less insulin is released. This hormone from the pancreas, which directs blood sugar into the cells, is required for fat metabolism, among other things. According to a Canadian study, chronic short sleepers (4 hours or less) have a 73% higher risk of becoming overweight than people who sleep between 7 and 9 hours a night. This may also be due to the fact that leptin - the hormone responsible for suppressing appetite and satiety - is released in lower quantities when there is a lack of sleep than during sleep. At the same time, the appetite-enhancing hormone ghrelin is increasingly produced when you are awake. The result: hunger sets in during the sleepless phases of the night.
Lack of sleep and diabetes
According to studies, a chronic lack of sleep leads to an increased susceptibility to inflammation in the body. This in turn promotes the development of many common diseases, such as diabetes. If there are too many sleepless nights or too little sleep over a long period of time, it can happen that the insulin can no longer deliver the sugar from the blood to the cells so well, resulting in a permanently high blood sugar level. Bad sleepers have a 26% higher risk of developing diabetes than healthy sleepers.
Lack of sleep and concentration problems
The brain suffers from lack of sleep. It needs the nocturnal rest for regeneration as well as the organs and the immune system. Even after a sleepless or sleep-disturbed night, your mental performance is limited. You are less alert, tired and unable to concentrate on your work. Otherwise you are more forgetful and your ability to learn may also decrease because your memory suffers from the lack of sleep.
Sufficient sleep is also so important for the brain because newly learned information passes from short-term memory to long-term memory and is firmly anchored there. It does this by forming new nerve connections in your cerebral cortex. This way you can play back the recorded information at a later point in time. However, if restful sleep is missing, it has been proven that fewer new nerve connections are built, so that this process cannot take place as effectively. Result: Forgetfulness can increase.
Lack of sleep and dementia
Researchers suspect that lack of sleep can contribute to the development of dementia. The brain suffers, especially when deep sleep is often lacking. If harmful metabolic products such as beta-amyloids are no longer completely removed from the brain, dementia diseases such as Alzheimer's become more likely. Because these proteins accumulate as deposits in the brain tissue and can trigger the typical memory problems and other symptoms of Alzheimer's. In the case of existing dementia, a chronic lack of sleep can further impair mental performance, since the ability to remember suffers even more from the lack of sleep.
Chronic sleep deprivation also increases the number of nerve cells that die off. In an American study with mice, the proportion of dying nerve cells in the often overtired mice was 25%. This also has a negative effect on mental performance such as concentration and memory.
Lack of sleep and migraines
According to sleep physicians, a large percentage of the causes for the development of migraines are lack of sleep. Especially when these headaches are chronic, too little sleep plays a role. But why is that? An American study found that sleep problems during the night lead to less frequent REM phases. This period is characterized by more superficial sleep with increased brain activity and frequent dreaming. REM comes from English and stands for "Rapid Eye Movement". This describes the "rapid eye movements" under the closed eyelids that are typical for this phase of sleep. If the REM phases occur less frequently, certain proteins are increasingly produced, which help to maintain (chronic) pain – such as with migraines.
Lack of sleep and injuries
Research has shown that after 22 hours without sleep, a person has a similar reactivity as someone with a blood alcohol level of 1.0 per mil. Lack of sleep leads to limited mental performance and increased daytime fatigue with daytime sleepiness. The reduced ability to react and the poor concentration make it more likely that you will cause a traffic accident or injure yourself due to the lack of sleep - for example while doing housework or at work. In Germany alone, 20% of traffic accidents are attributed to driver fatigue.
Lack of sleep and heart attack
If you sleep less than 7 hours a night in the long term or suffer from frequent insomnia, this damages your heart. Because lack of sleep promotes inflammation in the body, which plays a role in heart diseases such as heart attacks. This connection was observed in a Chinese study. Accordingly, people who have trouble falling asleep have a 27% increased risk of having a heart attack. If you have trouble staying asleep, the probability that a heart attack will occur is somewhat lower, but it is still 11% higher.
Lack of sleep and stroke
The likelihood of suffering a stroke also increases with prolonged lack of sleep. A stroke or heart attack occurs because a certain blood vessel becomes narrowed or blocked, preventing blood from flowing through it. As a rule, narrowing of the vessels due to fat deposits on the vessel wall (arteriosclerosis) is to blame. Chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of arteriosclerosis, which increases the likelihood of a stroke or heart attack.
Lack of sleep and high blood pressure
Lack of sleep also has a negative impact on blood pressure. Various studies have confirmed that high blood pressure can be triggered by frequent sleepless nights or frequently disturbed sleep. The increased inflammatory process, which is partly caused by chronic lack of sleep, also plays a role here. Research has also found that sleeping just 1 to 2 hours less per night increases blood pressure and makes the heart beat faster. That's because your nervous system responds to a lack of sleep in much the same way it would to a threatening situation: with a stress response. Lack of sleep causes your nervous system to release the stress hormone cortisol, making the heart beat faster and increasing blood pressure. It is therefore important to do everything possible to ensure that your sleep quality remains good in the long term or that your sleep becomes more restful again.
Even if you already suffer from high blood pressure, getting enough sleep is essential for you. Because if you sleep less than 7 hours a night, a worse course of the disease is to be expected than if you get enough sleep.
Lack of sleep and cancer
Chronic lack of sleep weakens the immune system. Fewer immune cells, so-called scavenger cells, are formed. These specialized cells destroy abnormal cells in the body that could lead to cancer. The fewer scavenger cells there are, the higher the probability that cancer will develop. The activity of these scavenger cells is controlled by the hormone cortisol. This is normally distributed primarily in the early morning and then decreases again towards the evening. A disrupted sleep-wake rhythm disrupts this process, which means that the scavenger cells can no longer fight problematic cells as effectively as with a restful sleep.
If sleep is permanently disturbed, more and more cancer-promoting free radicals are released. In excess, these harmful oxygen molecules cause oxidative stress in the body, which usually leads to cancer and other diseases. Antioxidants (such as glutathione, melatonin) are needed to neutralize these free radicals. However, these health-promoting substances are less efficient under sleep deprivation and are therefore less able to protect our cells from cancer.
If you already have cancer, you should also make sure you get enough sleep. Because lack of sleep worsens the course of cancer. Last but not least, sleeping problems or not getting enough sleep also increases the risk of dying from cancer.
Lack of sleep and colon cancer
According to research, people with sleep disorders and a corresponding lack of sleep have a higher risk of colon polyps. These are initially benign growths in the intestinal mucosa, but over time they can develop into colon cancer. One study showed that mice that were awakened from sleep more often grew tumors twice as fast as those that slept well.
When it gets dark in the evening and we get tired, the sleep hormone melatonin is released. This is an important antioxidant in the body that is able to neutralize the cancer-causing free radicals in our body. But if you wake up more often during the night, less melatonin is released. This reduces the anti-cancer effect. In order for melatonin to be released in sufficient quantities, it must be dark in your bedroom. According to research, artificial light sources have a negative effect on melatonin production and thus also on the quality of sleep.
Lack of sleep and breast cancer
The close link between sleep deprivation and cancer is not only true for colon cancer, but could also apply to breast and ovarian cancer. However, this has not yet been sufficiently researched. But what is known is that melatonin prevents too much estrogen (the female sex hormone) from being released. If this "natural estrogen brake" is switched off by lack of sleep, more estrogen can be released. According to researchers, this could increase the risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
Lack of sleep and nausea
Frequent lack of sleep can literally upset your stomach. Then, in addition to nausea, you can also suffer from stomach pain or heartburn. If you catch up on the missing sleep, the symptoms usually improve again. In this case, nausea and heartburn as well as stomach problems vanish into thin air after a lot of rest and sleep.
Lack of sleep and dizziness
Lack of sleep affects the brain, the nervous system and thus motor performance. Insomnia or a sleep deficit can lead to dizziness. Once you have caught up on the sleep deficit or if the problems falling asleep or sleeping through the night improve, the dizziness usually disappears.
Lack of sleep and impotence
Chronic lack of sleep means that the male sex hormone testosterone is formed by up to 15% less from the afternoon. Not only can less muscle mass be built up as a result. The number of sperm also decreases, which can impair fertility. Do you and your partner want to have children? Then you should pay particular attention to getting enough sleep.
Lack of sleep and wrinkles
If the lack of sleep lasts for a long time, the cells suffer. The many free radicals accelerate the aging process of the cells. This makes people with insomnia look older than they are. The cells cannot regenerate or renew themselves as well due to the lack of sleep. As a result, more wrinkles appear on the face. You are more prone to impure skin and premature aging. In addition, lack of sleep is more likely to give you the unpleasant circles under your eyes. Because chronic sleep deprivation ages you prematurely, it also increases your risk of dying prematurely. If, on the other hand, you get enough sleep, you will stay beautiful for longer and, ideally, you can even look forward to a longer life.
Lack of sleep and hypothyroidism
Lack of sleep can lead to disturbances in the balance of the thyroid hormones, which can lead to a variety of symptoms such as high blood pressure or tachycardia. With a short-term lack of sleep, the body can still compensate for these hormonal imbalances. However, if the lack of sleep is chronic, the hormonal imbalance can develop into hypothyroidism, for example. The thyroid hormones are essential for the metabolism: they control the growth of cells and the body as a whole.
Lack of sleep and osteoporosis
According to an American study, postmenopausal women who sleep less than 5 hours a night have a slightly higher risk of developing osteoporosis (bone loss) than women who sleep 7 hours. If you get enough sleep, you also do something for the health of your bones.
Mental illnesses caused by lack of sleep
Lack of sleep and depression
Frequent lack of sleep not only makes you more susceptible to physical illnesses, but also to mental ones. If the sleep disturbances or the short sleep periods last for a longer period of time, the risk of depression is increased, for example. It is about twice as high in these people as in healthy sleepers.
In a large US study, teens who slept 5 or fewer hours a night had a 71% greater risk of depression than teens who slept 8 hours. The young people with sleep deprivation also had a greater tendency to have suicidal thoughts. Researchers also found that people who consistently suffered from insufficient sleep as adolescents were more prone to attempt suicide in adulthood than those who had a healthy sleep schedule.
lack of sleep and anxiety disorders
Anxiety disorders are also more common among people who are sleep deprived and sleep less than 8 hours. Researchers suspect that the cause is that negative thoughts and impressions from the day are not sufficiently processed due to the lack of sleep and are therefore present in the body for longer. Because of the lack of sleep, they hold onto the negative thoughts more strongly. This in turn makes them more susceptible to anxiety disorders, which are particularly common following persistent negative thoughts. Sufficient sleep, on the other hand, leads to a kind of harmonization of the mind: the processing of negative experiences, thoughts or feelings can be completed, which makes it easier to let go and makes anxiety disorders less likely.
Lack of sleep and personality change
In experiments with volunteers, personality changes can be seen after just 1 to a few nights of sleep deprivation. Humorous and well-balanced people then showed increased irritability and susceptibility to mood swings in addition to the loss of humor. Her personality began to change under the sleep deficit. They became uncooperative, unfriendly, and aggressive in dealing with others. The background is that when there is a lack of sleep, areas of the brain that are responsible for our emotions are more active.
Lack of sleep and hallucinations
Lack of sleep can lead to hallucinations, i.e. imaginary images or sounds. Volunteers who had not slept for several days reported perceptions that could not be traced back to a real sensory stimulus. Hallucinations are caused by certain substances that accumulate in the brain. With normal sleep duration, these are removed from the brain during sleep. However, with prolonged lack of sleep, these substances remain in the brain, so they can cause hallucinations in sleep-deprived patients.
Sleep deprivation and ADHD in children
Chronic sleep deprivation in children can have the same health consequences as adults. In them, lack of sleep also makes itself felt through the typical ADHD symptoms (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). These include a short attention span, a limited ability to concentrate, restlessness, learning difficulties and often also problems in the social area such as an increased willingness to be aggressive.
Frequently asked Questions
How many people are affected by sleep disorders and sleep deprivation?
According to a DAK survey, 80% of Germans are affected by lack of sleep due to sleep disorders or too little sleep. Around 10% suffer from the severe sleep disorder known as insomnia. Sleep problems are therefore widespread and have increased drastically in all industrialized nations in recent years. From 2010 to 2017, the proportion of people between the ages of 35 and 65 suffering from sleep deprivation increased by 66%. Even children are now increasingly struggling with sleep problems.
- exhaustion/ powerlessness
- concentration problems
- limited performance
- pain such as migrainess
- lower ability to react (thereby increased risk of accidents)
- Mood swings (including depression)
- brooding over sleep problems
In experiments with people who voluntarily underwent sleep deprivation for several days, it was found that lack of sleep does not cause organic damage. However, there are a number of unpleasant psychological and physical symptoms that show that a constant lack of sleep promotes numerous diseases and premature aging. For ethical reasons, the experiments were of course stopped in good time so as not to endanger human life.
However, there is an inherited condition called lethal familial insomnia, in which sufferers are unable to sleep properly. This rare disease, which occurs between the ages of 40 and 60, leads to death no later than 18 months after the onset of the disease – always. This shows that chronic sleep deprivation could very well be fatal if left unchecked. On the other hand, temporarily poor sleep can be compensated relatively well by the body, so that no major consequences for health are to be expected.
- Have the cause(s) clarified by an internist, a sleep laboratory, a psychotherapist or a holistic alternative practitioner
- eat healthily (alkaline excess: low in sugar, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain products, etc.)
- exercise and exercise regularly
- Possibly detoxification, intestinal cleansing and intestinal rehabilitation (e.g. if there is a suspicion of a lack of vital substances)
- stress reduction
- Active stress management (learn relaxation methods and practice them regularly)
- resolve internal conflicts (identify mental stress and find a solution)
- Reduce coffee, alcohol, cola and stop drinking after 5 p.monly
- eat light foods after 6 p.m
- avoid exciting evening activities
- establish a regular sleep-wake cycle (go to sleep and get up at the same time every day)
- provide a quiet, dark place to sleep
- Activate blue light filter on laptop etc.
- Reduce electrosmog (W-Lan, power strips, etc. off at night)
- use relaxation methods if you have trouble falling asleep (to calm your thoughts)
- use natural sleeping pills: e.g. B. valerian, hops, lemon balm, St. John's wort
- Argentum nitricum: globules in sleep deprivation due to exam stress and fear of failureNux vomica: globules for lack of sleep due to stress, high workload and mental restlessness
- Bach flower mix Rescue Night: to calm your mind