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6 diseases that can grow in your body when you don't sleep enough

POSTED: October 9, 2017 9:01 a.m.
Kitt Wakeley/

We all notice common side effects when we haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep. But did you know there are even more serious diseases that can develop or worsen with continued sleep deprivation?

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We all notice common side effects when we haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep: crankiness, faintness, muscle aches and a general inability to think or function.

But did you know there are even more serious diseases that can develop or worsen with continued sleep deprivation?

Each of us has faced a situation where we needed to stay up to get something important accomplished. When that habit becomes regular, however, you can find yourself dealing with more serious issues.

People who consistently fail to get enough sleep are at an increased risk of chronic disease, according to the Division of Sleep and Medicine at Harvard Medical School. If you aren't getting enough sleep, you could be at risk for a lot more than that uncomfortable groggy feeling.

Here are six serious diseases that can grow in your body when you don't sleep enough:

1. Alzheimer’s

Researchers linked poor sleep habits to a cause of Alzheimer’s Disease (ALS). The same study concluded that lack of sleep also aids in the disease's progression.

2. Prostate cancer

In a study consisting of 2,425 Icelandic men between the ages of 67 and 96, researchers found that men with sleep problems were 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed prostate cancer. And this number increased when subjects reported a difficulty staying asleep.

Scientists now attribute the connection between cancer and sleep deprivation to low levels of melatonin, an important chemical for suppressing tumor growth.

3. Obesity

Many new studies link lack of sleep with weight gain. During sleep, our bodies secrete hormones that help control appetite, energize metabolism and process glucose.

Not getting enough sleep will throw off the balance of these and other parts of the body's chemistry, including cortisol, insulin and leptin.

Leptin is the hormone that tells the brain your body has had enough food. Consequently, lack of sleep can lead to food cravings even if you’ve eaten enough. If this cycle continues, the additional calories will continue to add up and make future attempts at weight loss all the more difficult.

4. Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can develop from lack of sleep due to the influence sleep has on the body’s glucose processing.

One short-term sleep restriction study discovered that when a group of healthy patients had their sleep time reduced from eight hours or more to four hours per night, they processed glucose more slowly than they did when they slept 12 hours.

5. Heart disease and hypertension

There is growing evidence of a relationship between sleeping disorders and heart disease.

For sleep apnea sufferers, there are multiple issues that can appear over time. Apnea sufferers experience brief surges in blood pressure each time they wake up, which over time can lead to the chronic elevation of blood pressure known as hypertension, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, patients with an existing hypertension condition showed elevated blood pressure rates throughout the entire day after a bad night's rest.

6. Mood disorders

Chronic sleep loss can lead to long-term mood disorders including depression, anxiety and mental distress.

In one study, subjects who slept four and a half hours per night reported feeling more stressed, sad, angry and mentally exhausted. In another, subjects who slept four hours per night showed less optimism and sociability. And each of these symptoms improved immediately when they went back to a normal sleep schedule.

It's an easy preventative measure

All of us are aware that sleep is something that we need regularly; everyone has experienced the weakness, bad moods and lack of focus that result from a bad night. Too often, though, it's treated as a luxury, not a requirement. Many things can get in the way of a good night's sleep, from stress to studying for a final exam or from just overscheduling.

What people need to realize is that lack of sleep, especially on an ongoing basis, can lead to much more serious and even life-threatening conditions. As we’ve seen above, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and more can lead to a lower quality of health and shorter life expectancy.

Many of us have been told what preventative measures we can take to prevent many of the conditions listed above such as diet, exercise, aspirin regimen, etc. The easiest measure you can add to this list is simply getting enough sleep on a regular basis.

So the next time you decide to take on a large project and tell yourself, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” you may find yourself facing that last sleep a lot sooner than you would like.

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