The busier we get, the more we look to add hours to our day. Most commonly, those hours are produced by sacrificing sleep. It is something we see in patients of all ages, from parents staying up late seeking decompression time after the kids are off to bed to hard-working students engaging in late nights of study. Let’s not forget the many of us that are worker bees during the day and just can’t turn our brains off at night. But does this conversion of sleep time help or hurt one’s health? Here are five side effects of reduced sleep to help weigh that decision.

1. Dysregulation of hunger hormones and blood sugar
What does that mean? By changing our sleep habits, and especially developing irregularities in sleep patterns and durations less than seven hours per night, the body must find ways keep adequate blood sugar levels for an alert and wakeful state. Therefore, the blood will see changes in blood sugar levels as stores of storage forms of glucose are mobilized and hunger hormones are stimulated. Although this is a wonderful ability of the body to keep pushing well into a fatigued state, it has significant long-term side effects.

2. Heart health
Heart health is one of those long-term side effects. Even worse, if someone already has heart issues, changes in sleep patterns and obtaining less than seven hours per night can put immense strain on the heart as hormone as pumped into the blood stream to keep the system going. Furthermore, the heart is under immense stress in the first hour of wakefulness after sleep especially when large doses of hormones must be secreted to force sufficient functional levels of adrenaline to get the day started. This is why heart attacks are most common first thing in the morning.

3. Dementia
A link between less sleep and dementia might come as a stretch; however, this results from degeneration of the nerves. Certainly, this does not happen just from one night of reduced sleep, but studies have shown chronic and or repeated sleep loss increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. Other factors also include the changes in hormonal control of blood sugar as outlined above.

4. Inflammation
Sleep deprivation has been shown to cause increases in inflammation. Inflammation increases stress on the body collectively. Certainly, there are isolated areas of inflammation in cases of specific injury; however, with sleep loss, this inflammation is more global and thus causes the body to feel more achy, more prone to injury and work harder to function normally as it must also much secrete larger amounts of anti-inflammatory hormones to combat the inflammation.

5. Recovery
This is most simply applied to a workout. Should one want to train for a sport or even “get into shape,” the recovery portion is as important as the exerted effort. During that recovery time the body is working hard to adapt to those purposeful stressed applied to the body; however, should adequate time not be allocated, via sufficient restful sleep, recovery and thus adaptation to the training load cannot be sufficiently regenerated. This is where terms such as overtraining, stagnation, and plateaus come into play.

So, let’s reflect back on our previous question. What cost does cutting back on sleep have and is it worth it? The brain is going to be less efficient with reduced sleep, the heart will be under more stress, our hormones will be dysregulated, our bodies will be more inflamed, and our recovery from yesterday’s workout will be insufficient. I do have one last query. What if one chose to go to sleep at a normal and consistent sleep hour and capitalize on that hormonal regulation and recovery from the day, do you think maybe they would feel exactly how they hoped they would by sacrificing the sleep in the first place? Now you’ve converted those five side effects to five benefits of adequate sleep. That should help you rest more easily.