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Sleep and the Adverse Effects of Not Getting Enough of It

“The grind.” We all have heard this term before, whether from friends telling you about how they pulled an all-nighter studying for an exam or co-workers talking about their ability to function on only four hours of sleep.

This term has taken root in society and is associated with a complex of superiority. Now if someone is not “grinding” 24/7, then that person is not working hard enough, or at least that is the trending thought process.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2016), one-third of adults ages 18 to 60 do not get the recommended seven hours of sleep at night. Lack of sleep can be associated with many negative effects, such as poor academic performance, driving impairments and increased risk for several diseases.

Lack of sleep can play a role in a student's academic performance. According to the CDC (2019), sleep is especially important for students because it affects their ability to stay focused and concentrate during class. Children who don’t get enough sleep are at a greater risk of exhibiting behavioral problems, along with developing other health conditions such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Drowsiness due to not getting enough sleep can have a negative effect on driving ability. It can cause people to pay less attention to the road, it can impair a driver’s ability to make good decisions and it can slow reaction time (CDC, 2018). According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2017), about 91,000 of the reported accidents were due to drowsy driving, which resulted in nearly 800 deaths.

Lack of sleep may increase the risk for various diseases, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A study testing the relationship between lack of sleep and obesity found that under sleep-deprived conditions, the appetite-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin (hormones that affect hunger and satiety) were altered, which led to reduced satiety and increased caloric intake.

The study also showed that limited sleep led to fatigue, which subsequently led to decreased physical activity, thus decreasing the total daily energy expenditure (Wu, Zhai and Zhang, 2014). Increased weight gain can result in the onset of other diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Extensive research is being published on the lack of sleep and the role it can play in the development of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that exhibits forms of amnesia, visuospatial deficits and the deterioration of language skills.

One of the pathologies found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease is the formation of beta-amyloid plaques (an accumulation of a type of protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease) in the brain. In a study done by Szabet et al. (2019), the researchers found that even one night of sleep deprivation led to an increase in the levels of beta-amyloid in spinal fluid. This increase chronically is related to an increased risk of the development of Alzheimer’s.

After reading this, people may start saying “OK, I’m just going to start sleeping more.” However, for some, this is not as easy as just simply shutting off the lights, lying in your bed and closing your eyes. The CDC (2016) offers some great tips for getting more sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same times daily (regardless of the day of the week).
  • Turn off the lights, turn off any noise and make sure the temperature is comfortable.
  • Turn off the screens!
  • Avoid substances such as caffeine and alcohol before bed.
  • Avoid eating large meals immediately before bedtime.
  • Get moving! Exercising during the day can make falling asleep at night easier to do.

Most of us can regulate our sleep and the quantity we achieve on a nightly basis. By recognizing the importance of an adequate amount of sleep every night and making this a priority in our lives, we can improve our daily and long-term quality of life drastically.


Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Centers for Disease Control.



By Olivia Simonson, NDSU Extension Community Nutrition Intern

Reviewed by Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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