Besides the possible problems and dangers of being unalert; (according to the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 100,000 traffic accidents each year are caused by fatigue and drowsiness), what are the effects of inadequate sleep on our body?
As we all know, sleep is a primary requirement for all living things. Sleep deprivation happens to most human beings at some time. The most important thing is to restore our body balance by sleeping to catch up on lost sleep. The effects of inadequate sleep is so powerful on our physiological make up that "sleep deprivation" has emerged as a key tool in torture. What are the effects of inadequate sleep on humans?
The effects of inadequate sleep can be roughly categorised into immediate, medium term and long term effects. The effects we are looking at are not those due to unalertness like accidents, etc, but the physiological effects on our body.
Short term: The initial short term effects of inadequate sleep are known to all of us because we have experienced them at one time or the other. These are yawning, daytime drowsiness and naps. Last week, I explained the mechanism behind these. Physiologically, these are not harmful effects at all, but designed to help us regain lost sleep.
When we still do not top up on our sleep, we may experience slowed reaction time, impatience and irritability, slurred and/ nonsensical speech. The last one is a little interesting, there are funny instances where you wake up someone who is catching up on sleep debt and the person starts giving the most ridiculous responses to your questions!! Other effects are, blurred vision (you find drivers rubbing their eyes regularly in an attempt to improve vision), aching muscles and general discomfort. Replenishing sleep debt with very good and sufficient sleep will correct all these.
Medium term effects: Like every other thing, when sleep deprivation is not corrected; the effects become more serious. Medium term effects include, nausea, pallor (skin losses vitality), dark circles under the eyes, general confusion, dizziness, headaches, depersonalzation and derealization (the person begins loose his sense of self and reality), hallucinations, fainting, hand tremors. Others effects are, paranoia/ psychosis, attention deficient disorder, memory lapses or losses, hernia, weakened immune system, colour blindness, clinical depression, weight loss, etc.
As we can see, these effects are quite unpleasant and the victim would start panicking. Sleep replenishment may not be enough to reverse all the symptoms and the person may need medical attention.
The long term effects are however much more devastating. The medium term effects of sleep deprivation is one of the tools used to break resistance during torture. Sleep deprivation is used as a torture or interrogation technique. Interrogation victims are kept awake for several days; when they are finally allowed to fall asleep, they are suddenly awakened and questioned.
Menachim Begin, the Israeli prime minister from 1977-83 described his experience of sleep deprivation when a prisoner of the KGB in Russia as follows, "In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep… Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it." Nicole Bieske, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International Australia, has stated, "At the very least, [sleep deprivation] is cruel, inhumane and degrading.
If used for prolonged periods of time it is torture."
Long term effects: Longterm sleep deprivation affects all the organs of the body and some of the effects are irreversible. In rats, prolonged, complete sleep deprivation increases both food intake and energy expenditure, leading to weight loss and, ultimately, death. Organs that are adversely affected include the brain, the nervous system, heart, pancreas, etc.
The immediate longterm effects of sleep deprivation include hypertension, obesity, irregular heart beats. The effects with regards to obesity are interesting, several large studies suggest that the obesity epidemic in Europe and the United States might have as one of its causes, a corresponding decrease in the average number of hours that people are sleeping. Other scientists hold that the physical discomfort of obesity and related problems, such as sleep apnea, reduce an individual’s chances of getting a good night’s sleep. So, it is a vicious circle, not sleeping helps to make you fat and fat prevents you from sleeping! The weight loss effect of sleep deprivation is in the medium term whilst obesity is in the longterm.
Diabetes and Long term Effects: Emerging facts show that the diabetes explosion being experienced globally (especially amongst urban black people), is multi-factorial. It is not just a simple diet or blood sugar story. It may shock and surprise you to know that, long term sleep deprivation has been fingered in causing diabetes!
A 1996 study by the University of Chicago Medical Centre showed that sleep deprivation severely affects the human body’s ability to metabolize glucose, which can lead to early-stage Diabetes Type 2. Even I found this discovery very interesting and illuminating. It is amazing the kind of answers you find in previous researches when you have seemingly current problems. You truly can’t cheat nature. Helpful website: http://www.relax-and-sleep.com