Can too little sleep kill you?

Can a lack of sleep actually kill you?

Perhaps you wondered this as you staggered through another late night watching assorted overseas sports events involving Australians, such as last month’s Ashes, then confronted an early morning at work or getting the grandkids to daycare or making your morning tee time at the golf club. Tough life I know for this semi-retiree.

The fact that you’ve never seen anybody’s headstone read, ‘Died from a lack of sleep’ suggests that it’s probably not possible, and while you might sometimes be so tired that you feel like death warmed up, you don’t walk around terrified of suddenly kicking the bucket.

Or do you?

Perhaps you read the findings of a laboratory test from some years ago when rats were deprived of sleep for 32 days and they all died.

The reality, however, is that extreme tiredness by itself won’t kill you, but combined with other things, it might not end well.

Consider, for example, driving while sleep deprived. Or operating a power tool while struggling to keep your eyes open.

A 2017 Sleep Health Foundation report found that some 394 Australians died from motor vehicle or workplace accidents linked to a lack of sleep.

Chairperson and Emeritus Professor with the foundation Dorothy Bruck says the report found that four out of every 10 Australians were suffering from inadequate sleep. She described the rate as “an epidemic”.

“The numbers are big, the personal and national costs are big and their consequences should not be ignored,” she said.

According to University of Sydney sleep researcher Dr Nathaniel Marshall, a lack of sleep might not kill you, but it does influence your health and mental wellbeing and could most certainly influence your decision-making.

“People are just more likely to do stupid things and put themselves in life-threatening situations when they’ve not been sleeping,” Dr Marshall said.

Such impact on your mental abilities not only affects your decision-making, but also increases the possibility of genuine health risks.

Healthline, an international website devoted to health issues, says that a lack of sleep can result in everything from weight gain to a weakened immune system.

“Getting less than seven hours of sleep on a regular basis can eventually lead to health consequences that affect your entire body,” Healthline said.

“This may also be caused by an underlying sleep disorder. Your body needs sleep, just as it needs air and food to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new connections and helps memory retention.

“Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties as well,” the article continued. “You may also find it more difficult to concentrate or learn new things.

“The signals your body send may also be delayed, decreasing your coordination and increasing your risk for accidents.”

Most health experts recommend six to eight hours sleep each night, and all would probably agree that going sleep-deprived for 32 days would not be ideal. But you’re unlikely to try that, are you?

Which perhaps brings us to the question of whether you can die of boredom?

Well, scientists regard boredom as being similar to stress and while, like stress, it may not directly kill you, it can result in other issues, such as excessive drinking and risk-taking to break the boredom, and such things can certainly kill.

Have you almost had a bad ending to a lack of sleep? Do you suffer from sleep issues?

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Related articles:
Sleep poll delivers a wake-up call
Sleep issues linked to heart attacks
How sleep affects the way we age

Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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