Sleep deprivation can impact much more than just your attention span—researchers have established that a lack of sleep can derail many areas of your holistic health.

By Zee Krstic
November 25, 2019

More Americans than ever are suffering from a lack of sleep—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three American adults sleep less than six hours each evening, totaling upwards of 70 million people overall. While many already know firsthand how a bad night's sleep can negatively impact your day, the drowsiness for those who are constantly operating on a poor night's sleep could actually be much worse, according to new research. Scientists at Michigan State University have discovered new evidence that suggests a chronic lack of sleep can seriously impact your ability to multitask or get through routine complex tasks throughout the day. Their findings have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology

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The researchers began their study by watching nearly 140 people throughout the night; some of the participants were asked to go home and sleep in their beds, while others were asked to stay awake all night. Before the experiment began, participants completed cognitive evaluations that tested their reaction times, in addition to a complex test that required them to finish a task while being periodically interrupted to see how well they could keep up. The same tests were repeated in the morning so that scientists could analyze the differences in performance; while some mistakes were made in the first round of tests, scientists said error rates of the sleep-deprived group increased by 15 percent the next morning. 

Related: Science Says Getting Either Too Much or Too Little Sleep Can Impact Your Risk of Heart Attack

Researchers noted you can still effectively complete simple tasks while sleep deprived—like brushing your teeth, for example—but the study reveals that higher-level cognitive functioning and problem solving could be greatly impacted if you constantly skimp on a good night's rest. "Our research showed that sleep deprivation doubles the odds of making placekeeping errors and triples the number of lapses in attention, which is startling," Kimberly Fenn, a co-author of the study, says in a press release. "Sleep deprived individuals need to exercise caution in absolutely everything that they do and simply can't trust that they won't make costly errors. Oftentimes—like when behind the wheel of a car—these errors can have tragic consequences." 

In addition to cognitive health, experts have long known that sleep is tied to many aspects of your holistic health, including the strength of your heart and cardiovascular system. Even those who simply don't sleep enough because they're too busy working (and not actively avoiding a good night's rest) could be sabotaging their health due to the effects that a lack of sleep has on heart health. Scientists at the European Society of Cardiology discovered that those who may work multiple evening shifts or live in noisy environments are at greater risk for heart disease due to a lack of sleep, according to new research published in Cardiovascular Research. The study, which makes use of data collected in European populations, notes the issue is a particular issue for men and demonstrates that occupation could account for 14 percent of coronary heart disease overall. Their findings support previous research that demonstrates women are getting more sleep than their male counterparts.

If you're hoping to work on creating a healthy sleep routine in the new year, experts at the National Sleep Foundation recommend shooting for a bedtime that'll allow you to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. But getting into your bed is only half the battle—you'll need to make sure your environment is supportive of deep, restful sleep, which includes leaving electronics (and your phone!) far away from your bedside. Streamline your bedroom's sleep environment with these three simple swaps to get started on supercharging your sleep routine for best results.

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