What are the consequences of lack of sleep?

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23 January 2012

Sleep is absolutely essential for people to do well in their daily functions, but it often ends up being disturbed either intentionally or unintentionally. This results in lack of sleep, which is also known as sleep deprivation.

Did You Know?
how rested you are is defined not only by how much you sleep, but also in what phase of sleep you spend most of the night. Sleep is divided into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is where you get vivid dreams, and non-REM sleep, where you get the most rest.

If you skimp on sleep for just a little while (even just one night), you become irritable, lose your ability to process information and use your memory, and can’t react to situations as quickly. As the lack of sleep accumulates, there are more and more potential adverse effects: scientific studies have shown that lack of sleep is associated with the risk of developing obesity, diabetes, depression, dysfunctional immune system and worse wound healing.


Did You Know?
in a hereditary disease called fatal familial insomnia people gradually lose their ability to sleep. Once the person is no longer able to sleep at all, they become demented and die.

Our sleep pattern is determined in part by our circadian rhythm, which is a daily pattern of the various processes in our bodies and our behaviour. Some scientists have shown that the circadian rhythm of teenagers is not in tune with that of adults — teenagers are wired to want to go to bed later and wake up later than what is “normal” for an adult schedule. But because schools operate on an adult schedule, teenagers who stay up late end up missing out on necessary sleep. One theory suggests that constant sleep deprivation in teenagers is at least part of the reason why they are so emotional and irritable, and even why they are more likely to engage in high risk activities.

Did You Know?
sleep-deprived brain looks differently when imaged with MRI.

So the next time you want to pull an all-nighter to cram for an exam, really think whether or not it’s worth it — ideally before you become sleep deprived!

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This article was written by Inna Serikov who is a MD/PhD student at The University of British Columbia, with one more school year left to go. She likes good books, good food and dancing, and really dislikes early morning starts.

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