The Dangerous Effects Lack of Sleep Can Have on Your Health

A lack of sleep can make everyday life more difficult. But sleep deprivation isn't just an inconvenience. For some, not getting enough sleep can be dangerous, leading to an increased risk of chronic diseases and making you more susceptible to accidents. Learn how sleep deprivation affects your health, and what you can do to get the rest you need to support good health.

What Happens When You're Sleep Deprived

Sleep deprivation symptoms are typically painfully obvious. When you don't get enough sleep, you may feel tired, cranky, and just not at your best physically or mentally. Some of the specific effects of sleep deprivation include:

  • Reduced cognitive ability, including difficulty thinking or concentrating

  • Inhibited memory and ability to retain information

  • Lowered immunity, making you more susceptible to getting sick

  • Changes in mood

  • Increased risk of accidents, including car accidents or accidents at work or home

  • Increased risk of diabetes or high blood pressure

  • Difficulty regulating hunger hormones, which can lead to weight gain

  • Increased risk of heart disease

  • Decreased balance and coordination

When Sleep Deprivation Becomes Dangerous

Mood changes and lowered cognitive ability may be temporary issues resolved with a better night's sleep. But if you're regularly not getting enough sleep, you could be putting yourself at serious risk. Continually missing out on sleep means you have an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, which can all be serious chronic conditions.

Even one night of short sleep could be deadly, considering sleep deprivation can put you at a higher risk of accidents. In fact, drowsy driving is a cause of thousands of accidents each year and about 1,500 deaths. And sleep deprivation can lead to accidents and injuries while working.

How to Stay Safe With Sleep

A lack of sleep can be dangerous both in the short and long term, so it's a good idea to get the sleep you need each night. Of course, sometimes that's easier said than done, with demanding schedules, poor sleep hygiene, and even sleep disorders making sleep difficult to come by for some people.

  • Make sleep a priority. Don't burn the candle at both ends. Give yourself time to rest each night and wake up refreshed and ready for a new day. Plan ahead and figure out what time you need to wake up each day, then go to bed early enough that you have seven to nine hours of sleep before your wake up time. It's a good idea to account for falling asleep and waking up, too.

  • Sleep healthy. You bedroom should be a healthy sleep environment. That means it should be quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable. Your bedding can make a difference, and using sleep tools like a white noise machine, fan, and blackout curtains can help, too.

  • Maintain healthy sleep habits. You can support good sleep by sticking with a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine, which can make it easier to fall asleep if you're doing it at the same time each night. Avoid things that can keep you up at night, like naps too late in the day, consuming caffeine in the evening, or even drinking alcohol before bed, which can lower the quality of your sleep.

  • Get help. If you're struggling with a sleep disorder, it's not a good idea to just try to push through. Talk to your doctor about how you can treat sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea so you can sleep well at night.

Sleep deprivation isn't just a drag on your day, it can be dangerous to your health. Respect your need for sleep and make sure you're getting the good quality sleep you need to be safe and healthy every day.

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.