What Does a Sleepless Night Do to Your Health?

Woman lying in bed after a sleepless night

Tossing and turning all night and then dragging yourself through the day is not fun, but sleepless nights can also have long-term effects on your health. Chronic sleeplessness can lead to physical and other problems that can throw a big monkey wrench into your quality of life.

According to WebMD, lack of sleep can lead to heart problems such as heart attack, heart failure, and irregular heartbeat. The reasons aren’t entirely understood yet, although it’s possible that tired people don’t eat well or exercise enough. Fifteen studies from Europe found that people who had trouble sleeping had a 48% greater chance of developing heart disease. These studies followed 475,000 people, and were collected together in 2011. And a University of Chicago study in 2008 found that people who didn’t get enough sleep had a greater risk of developing coronary artery disease. Diabetes has also been linked to poor sleep.

But physical illnesses aren’t the only effects of poor sleep. DailyMail.com reports that losing sleep over a long period can cause memory loss and impair learning, as well as raising the stress hormone cortisol. The University of Bristol studied two groups of flight attendants; one group had a lighter work schedule and enough sleep, and the other group was overworked. Researchers found that in the overworked group the temporal lobe of the brain actually shrunk, leading to a reduced ability to learn and remember. These overworked and overstressed workers also produced more cortisol, which further impaired their learning. Sleep deprivation affects night shift workers more, but there’s evidence that short sleep is widespread. People sleep an average of 7 hours a night now, compared to 9 hours 40 years ago.

Tired drivers also cause accidents. WebMD cites the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which says that driving drowsy causes 100,000 car accidents and 1,550 car deaths each year. Drivers under 25 years old are most likely to have fatigue-related accidents. Studies have shown that the reaction time of tired drivers is the same as that of drunk drivers.

So what can you do to avoid becoming a permanent sleep zombie? Here are some tips on what you can change today to sleep better tonight. Go to bed at a set time, and have a bedtime ritual. Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, which can all interfere with sleep. Eat something before bed if you’re hungry, but don’t overstuff. Try using room-darkening shades and a noise maker to block out ambient light and sound. Also, make sure your mattress, pillow, and covers are comfortable. If you need to, consider getting a replacement mattress.

Some people might think a good night’s sleep is a luxury, but it’s really a necessity. Pleasant dreams!