It seems like everywhere you go, someone is warning against the bad health effects of insomnia and sleep deprivation.
Many studies have been done on both animals and humans to examine the effects of sleep deprivation, so there’s lots of material available. And it seems like a new study pops up on the news just about every day.
News Flash: Insomnia is not fun…
You probably don’t need the results of a scientific study to tell you that not sleeping makes you feel lousy and has an effect on your ability to function both mentally and physically.
You might notice a definite reduction in your ability to perform certain mental and physical tasks, along with increased fatigue and decreased stamina.
In addition, you may feel more stressed out, possibly with a faster pulse than normal and even heart palpitations.
You probably also have more irritability than usual, and may either feel more emotional (as in moody) or less (as in apathetic or just too tired to give a darn).
Besides the noticeable effects of insomnia, you’ve probably also heard that sleep deprivation can increase the risk of developing several health problems, such as
- Heart disease and strokes
- Hypertenstion or chronic high blood pressure
- Weakened ability to heal wounds
- Weakened ability to fight off colds
- Bipolar disorder
- Memory and other mental impairment
Why might these conditions develop or worsen as a side effect of insomnia or sleep deprivation?
While the biology of sleep is still rather mysterious, the scientists involved in such studies seem to agree that sleep has healing effects on the brain and that missing sleep impairs brain function… but they can’t tell you exactly why that is.
As far as the physical conditions go, there is less of a direct cause-and-effect, as far as I can tell (of course I’m not a doctor or sleep expert, and I’m just giving you my own interpretation of studies I have read, which could well be incorrect).
The culprit seems to be a heightened level of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which are known to lead to hypertension and heart disease.
Why lack of sleep causes higher stress hormones is not really understood. I have my own theories, as a non-expert (but former insomniac) that you can read about in my article on sleep deprivation and insomnia.
Of course you have to believe such reports, but they make it sound like not sleeping well is just about the worse thing you could do to your health.
…as if you had a choice?
Since most insomniacs are already stressed out about their lack of sleep and already fear the unhealthy effects of insomnia, these news reports end up increasing sleep anxiety and help to make an already frustrating and unpleasant condition even worse.
My own recommendation is to tune out these reports and articles, as they certainly will not make you sleep better. Your goal is to cure your insomnia, not give yourself more stuff to worry about during the night. If a certain behavior or activity isn’t helping you achieve your goal, it makes sense to stop it, right?
So what should you do if you are worried about the effects of insomnia on your health? And more importantly, what should you do if you are so worried about your health that you stay awake even longer just to toss and turn with newfound anxiety?
OK, first things first. I talk about how to deal with these dire news reports about how terrible the effects of insomnia and sleep deprivation are in my section on sleep anxiety, but here are a few things you can do to ease your mind.
2) Look upon worry and anxiety as the thing you’re trying to cure rather than insomnia. What would it feel like to not worry about your sleep anymore? What would it feel like to not worry about anything anymore? Would it seem strange? Would it seem like you’re not doing your “job” if you were to stop worrying?
If the answer is yes, you may have a clue to what’s causing your insomnia. I recommend you skip over to the Sleep and Stress article. You do NOT have to stop worrying in order to sleep better, as you will see when you get there.
But shouldn’t you pay attention to worrisome sleep deprivation symptoms?
If you’re experiencing mental or physical impairments that could cause you to put your life or others’ lives in danger, yes, you do need to pay attention.
For example, are you experiencing severe effects of insomnia and sleep deprivation while you perform tasks on the job that could put others at risk if you are not alert and functioning at optimal level?
If yes, you might want to seek outside help for your insomnia that gives you faster and more reliable results than a self-help program. The best place for such treatment is a sleep center staffed by doctors who specialize in sleep disorders.
And if you think you fall into the “severe insomnia” category, it might also be time to seek medical treatment. If you don’t like the idea of long-term medical treatment, just decide to make it a short-term, temporary stop-gap method.
If you are experiencing symptoms of severe insomnia, a few days or weeks of medication can restore some balance to your nervous system.
It can also alleviate the ill effects of insomnia on the mental and emotional level. Then you can focus on a long-term, permanent cure of your insomnia using self-help methods.