Can too little sleep kill you?

Sleep is a serious issue when you don’t get enough of it, but can a lack of sleep kill you?

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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    To make a comment, please register or login
    26th Sep 2019
    Unfortunately articles like this do very little to allay the fears of insomniacs like me. A title of "Can too little sleep kill you?" is, like most other articles on sleep, just plain depressing. Why not approach the subject from the positive side rather than the alarmist side. Insomnia is a long term issue for a big part of the population and certainly for the elderly who have less melatonin in their systems. I have read extensively on the issue of insomnia and have tried many, many ideas over a period of years. These are the things that have worked for me. Do not expect a miracle cure, it is a work in progress. Do not worry about how much sleep you are getting/not getting as this just makes it worse. Read everything you can on the subject written by those in the medical and para medical field. No you do not need to be religious. No you do not need to spend a lot of money, just try different things but try them in a relaxed way not a trying too hard way. Do not have a large/heavy meal at night or a late meal, keep it light but satisfying so that you are not up snacking at midnight. Make sure you are tired when you go to bed or go to bed later, but always get up at roughly the same time each morning. If you can't get off to sleep don't clock watch or try too hard to get to sleep. It is very important to have a comfortable bed and pillow and just relax into your pillow and bed and feel the comfort of the sheets. If you are not tired and can't get off to sleep get up and read a book for a while. Not a tablet, kindle or any other electronic device as these have a bright light. Bright light means morning not sleeping time. If you know you are lacking sleep but have to drive etc. make yourself very aware of everything you are doing and where you are at all times. A lot of people seem to think the car drives itself. Cars are a lethal weapon not only to you but to others as well. If you are really, really lacking sleep then take public transport or get someone else to drive you. Don't expect to get a good night's sleep every night. Some nights will be better than others. As long as you are getting a reasonable amount over a period of time you need to feel satisfied as, like me, you will never again sleep as well as you did when you were young. Hope this has been helpful and to all those fellow insomniacs, you are not alone. It is a massive problem throughout the whole world. Like I said, a work in progress.
    Chris G
    27th Sep 2019
    After months of feeling exhausted due to sleeping very poorly, my doctor put me onto Melatonin. It is not cheap @ $35 for 30 tablets, but it works! I still wake up at 1am or 3am, but I am able to go back to sleep, thanks to the Melatonin. The tablet is taken 1/2 an hour or so before bed, and what it does is that it tricks the brain into thinking that you are sleepy. It is non-addictive, and available only on prescription in Australia. I spotted homeopathic Melatonin in Priceline recently (I think the dosage was 6 tablets per night).
    27th Sep 2019
    Chris G - I have tried Bioglan Melatonin purchased in Australia and Natrol Melatonin purchased online through iHerb in America. The Natrol brand was actually recommended by my doctor who told me both she and her husband take different strengths of this Melatonin. Neither of these brands worked for me after experimenting with them for quite some time. My doctor also gave me a script for Circadin 2mg which is a non-PBS script so will be fairly expensive. After trying the Natrol Melatonin with no success I have not bothered to fill the Circadin script as I feel my problem with sleep runs deeper than just Melatonin levels. In 2017 three doctors won the Nobel Prize for finding a sleep gene. I might add, from research they had done long before 2017 but I guess insomnia has since become a big issue and that may be the reason why they only recently won the prize. I have quite a few hereditary issues (faulty genes) that I have obviously inherited from my mother and I feel sure the sleep issues are one of them. I thank you for your information and am glad it is working for you but will persevere with the non-medication side of things for a while longer as the suggestions I made previously seem to be working reasonably well for me. As there is no blood test that actually measures one's Melatonin levels we never really know whether we are medicating ourselves unnecessarily and as the homeopathic industry is not regulated, we also really don't know what exactly we are putting in our bodies.
    29th Sep 2019
    Diet can effect your sleep if you liver is being over worked it tries to clean out toxins while you are sleeping, also digestive issues. Dehydration can also wake you up if you are not taking in enough fluids or juicy fruit and veggies and too much dry foods without fiber. I use to wake up a lot when I was suffering from IBS and now do not have it and sleep really well.
    30th Sep 2019
    So true musicveg. All good comments. I have read about these things as well. There are a lot of things that affect your sleep. That's why you need to read up on it extensively and have to experiment on yourself to find out what it is that's affecting you as an individual.

    Tags: health, sleep, tired, die

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