Sleep deprivation and other sleep disorders can have a serious effect on health. Inadequate rest impairs a person’s ability to think, handle stress, maintain a healthy immune system and control emotions. Sleep disorder effects include mental and physical impairment.
Sleep and Health: The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Without adequate rest, the brain’s ability to function can quickly deteriorate. The brain works harder to counteract sleep deprivation effects, but operates less effectively, and a person’s ability to focus and complete tasks is impaired. Insufficient rest can even cause hallucinations and contribute to anxiety disorders and other psychiatric problems.
Other possible effects of sleep deprivation include:
- Heart disease
- Slower reaction times.
Sleep and Health in the Elderly
As people age, the likelihood of sleep disorders increases. The American Academy of Family Physicians (1999) reports over 50 percent of people 65 years old and older live with the effects of sleep disorders, such as sleep deprivation symptoms, sleep apnea and periodic limb movement disorder.
In older adults, sleep disorders can lead to serious health consequences. Hypertension and sleep apnea are linked, for example, and problems with breathing during sleep can contribute to heart problems. Older adults who take sleep medications or experience sleep deprivation symptoms may also be at an increased risk of falls or accidents.
Weight Changes and the Effects of Sleep Disorders
Weight changes, especially weight gain, are common sleep deprivation effects. The amount and quality of sleep affects hormone levels, particularly levels of leptin and ghrelin, which in turn affect physiological processes that depend on these hormone levels. This relationship further complicates the connection between sleep and health.
Leptin is a hormone that affects feelings of fullness and satisfaction after a meal, and ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite. When people suffer from sleep deprivation, levels of leptin fall and ghrelin levels increase. This means that people end up feeling hungrier and may be less satisfied by eating, causing them to eat more and, consequently, gain weight.
Driver Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation
Driver fatigue contributes to at least 56,000 car accidents annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (n.d.). Drowsy driving is one of the most common effects of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation, and potentially one of the most dangerous. In addition, the NHTSA figure only includes incidents where driver fatigue was determined to be the cause of the accident. How often driver fatigue goes unreported is unknown.
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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d). Drowsy driving and automobile crashes. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/drowsy_driving1/drowsy.html#V. POPULATION GROUPS.
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