How does a lack of sleep affect me?

Short answer: If you are sleep deprived, studies show you are at risk both physically and mentally, with your safety and quality of life, as well as those around you, at risk of being affected.

Long answer:

Our daily waking life is impacted by our sleep, both overnight and long-term. While we sleep, our bodies work to support healthy brain and physical health function. In children and teenagers, sleep supports growth and development. Ongoing sleep deficiency raises the risk of chronic health problems occurring and affects how we think, react, work, learn and get along with others.

A good night’s sleep allows our brain to form new pathways to help us learn and remember information. It enhances our learning and problem-solving skills, helps us pay attention, make decisions and be creative. If we are sleep deficient, we tend to struggle with these functions along with control of our emotions, behaviour and coping with change. It is noted that sleep deficiency is linked to depression, suicide and risk-taking behaviour in adults. In the case of children and teens they tend to experience mood swings, feel sad, depressed or stressed, lack motivation, feel angry and impulsive and have problems paying attention.

Sleep deficiency increases the risk of obesity in all age groups. Good sleep helps us maintain a healthy balance of hormones that affect hunger (ghrelin) and satiety (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your ghrelin levels rise and leptin levels drop. This can result in people often feeling hungrier than if they were well rested. Sleep deprivation affects how our body reacts to insulin, which is the hormone that controls our sugar levels, and may increase your risk of diabetes.

Our immune system is compromised when we are sleep deficient, resulting in the body’s defense system struggling to fight off common infections like colds and viruses.

Poor quality sleep means a reduction in productivity in our workplaces and schools. It reduces our reaction time, leads to more mistakes being made, is an occupational hazard and, may cause microsleep. Microsleep refers to brief moments of sleep whilst we are awake. We cannot control it occurring and may not even be aware of it happening, affecting our alertness and functionality. Drowsy drivers who are sleep deficient are as dangerous if not more so than drink drivers. Whilst we require different amounts of sleep according to our age, there are positive steps we can all take to create new sleep habits that will benefit us and our sleep regime. Your GP can prescribe medications that may help regulate your sleep patterns (e.g. melatonin) and refer to sleep clinics if needed.

If you are investigating your potential causes of sleep disturbance or lack of sleep, WLC Medical offers a range of allied health services to either target your mental health (psychologist), nutrition (dietitian) or tension (physiotherapist). Our clinic also includes nurse practitioner Julie McLean who specialises in helping children with their sleep behaviour, as well as home sleep study set up within our clinic in conjunction with Somnocare.