Are you putting yourself at risk of sleep deprivation? What is therisk?

Jan 12, 2017, 06:00 PM

We've all faced the dilemma at some point: Should I keep studying (or working) and delay bedtime, or log out and hit the hay?

In college, I regularly stayed up until midnight or 1 a.m. studying and writing lab reports, even though my alarm went off at 5 a.m. each morning for rowing practice. It was just so tempting to stay up late when there was so much work to be done—so much work, all the time.

But while running on four or five hours of sleep in college let me finish a lot of work, I was sleepy. I nodded off during class, ate more food to keep myself awake, and became more susceptible to catching colds. I found it harder to study because I hadn’t paid attention in class. I even found myself sometimes being short-tempered toward my friends.

Today, after working in a sleep research laboratory for the past four years and becoming intimately acquainted with what the research says about sleep curtailment, I am much more inclined to shut the books, close my laptop, and crawl into bed, because the fact is that there are literally no benefits—none, zip, zero, nada—to depriving oneself of necessary sleep.

Just one all-nighter alters your immune system’s functioning, similar to the way stress does. One night of sleep deprivation significantly reduces the peak concentration of your white blood cells' diurnal rhythm, making you more vulnerable to illness and infection. A single night of sleep deprivation results in increased blood pressure. Even a half-night of sleep loss can have the same effect for individuals who are hypertensive or prehypertensive, suggesting activation of the sympathetic system. Your body experiences many unique endocrine changes during sleep related to growth and thermoregulation, which curtailing sleep disrupts. Satiety hormones, like leptin and ghrelin, are also altered, which may result in increased hunger and weight gain. One week of mild sleep restriction (six hours per night—a pretty typical schedule for most people, right?) causes increased secretion of proinflammatory cytokines, which can contribute to cardiovascular and neurocognitive dysfunction. (Recovery sleep on the weekends lowers these inflammation levels.) One week of six hours per night is associated with a change in the transcription of over 700 genes, many of which are implicated in the body’s circadian rhythms, oxidative stress, and metabolism. One night of total sleep deprivation reduces the coordination and speed of our ability to eye-track, as a study that simulated driving ability after insufficient sleep assessed. The same study that found an increase in cytokines with modest sleep restriction for one week found that three nights of recovery sleep (10 hours per night in bed) wasnot sufficient to reverse deficits in attention and reaction time, as a simple computer task measured. Taken together, many studies have concluded that chronic sleep loss is associated with deficits in both short- and long-term memory, memory formation, decision-making, and attention/vigilance.