Slowly and painfully. That’s how sleep deprivation kills you. The worst part? You don’t even need to miss out on that much sleep to be considered deprived. 6 hours or less is the magic line; cross it and you’ll raise your risk of developing these 7 deadly diseases.
#1 – Cardiovascular Disease
If you’re an adult over the age of 45 who sleeps less than 6 hours per night, you’re twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack. This is true even if your eating and exercise habits are perfect. The risk increase is largely due to a sleep-deprived body’s constant high blood pressure – a major risk for heart disease.
“For most people, blood pressure falls at night,” says Dr. Diane Lauderdale. “It could be that with shorter sleep it’s just not enough for that dip to take place.”
#2 – Viral Infections
As you sleep, your immune system is hard at work producing ‘T-cells’ that keep viruses from overpowering your immune system.
“A lot of studies show our T-cells go down if we are sleep deprived,” says Dr. Diwakar Balachandran, director of the University of Texas Sleep Center. “This could potentially lead to the greater risk of developing a cold or flu.”
#3 – High Blood Sugar
In one study, researchers asked healthy participants to sleep 4 hours a night. After just 6 days, their glucose (sugar) tolerance was, on average, 40% lower. That placed them at risk of developing diabetes.
What’s sleep got to do with glucose tolerance, you ask? Well, as you rest, your body lowers its production of various hormones – including cortisol. When you don’t get enough sleep, your cortisol levels stay high. As a result, your blood-glucose levels also skyrocket.
In addition to diabetes, having high blood-sugar levels causes kidney disease, vision problems and nerve damage.
#4 – Alzheimer’s
Sleep deprivation not only speeds up Alzheimer’s progression – it also causes it. Researchers discovered this in 2013 after noticing sleep-deprived adults’ brains contain much more ‘brain waste’ than normal.
This waste accumulates on the brain, producing damage that ultimately leads to Alzheimer’s.
#5 – Suicide
Thanks to a decade-long study from Stanford University, we know that sleep deprivation drastically increases one’s risk of suicide – even if they’re not depressed. The Stanford researchers actually observed this firsthand, when 20 sleep-deprived study participants took their own lives.
“We suggest that poor subjective sleep quality may therefore represent a useful screening tool and a novel therapeutic target for suicide prevention,” write the study authors.
Past research has shown that sleep deprivation impairs brain function in a way similar to depression.
#6 – Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory condition marked by long-lasting inflammation and ulcers in your digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis also raises your risk of developing a related condition like liver disease or toxic megacolon.
In 2014, researchers found that sleep deprivation (6 hours or less) makes your body ineffective at fighting off digestive inflammation – hence the ulcerative colitis connection.
#7 – Prostate Cancer
Melatonin is a hormone that suppresses tumor growth. Sleep deprivation causes – yup, you guessed it – a reduction in your body’s melatonin levels.
In 2013, researchers linked this reduction to an increase in severity and occurrence of prostate cancer. Sleep-deprived participants’ risk of prostate cancer increased by an alarming 60%.