Science Says Not Getting Enough Sleep is a Threat to Your Health: What You Need to Know

Based on the latest research. Plus, expert sleep tips you need to know!

By: Lexy Parsons

The deeper we dive into sleep research, the more we understand sleep to be one of the most crucial determinants of our health and overall well-being. Important for cognitive function, cardiovascular health, and mental wellness, sleep emerges as one of the most fundamental elements for a healthy mind and body. However, it’s not enough to say getting enough sleep is beneficial. While this is, of course, true, the implications for lack of sleep are just as critical. In fact, emerging 2023 data reveals that insufficient sleep serves as a detriment to our overall health, linking poor sleep to an increased risk for chronic disease. All this to say, poor sleep is just as bad for your health as sufficient sleep is beneficial. Yet, despite the wealth of knowledge and research, millions of individuals (…an estimated 84 million) remain sleep-deprived, highlighting a crucial health challenge that demands education and attention.

That said, this isn’t to scare you (even if you’re one of these sleep-deprived individuals)! We’re simply here to share the impacts of not getting enough sleep, including what the latest science says, so that you can remain educated and take your sleep health back into your own hands.

How a Lack of Sleep Affects Your Health, According to Science

Cognitive Function

Insufficient sleep has a profound impact on cognitive function, whether it’s long-term or short-term. The reality is that even one night of inadequate sleep can result in noticeable cognitive deficits, including diminished memory and recall, as well as poor attention, concentration, and decision-making. If continued long-term, inadequate sleep can lead to more serious, enduring effects, such as cognitive decline.

Heart Health

Our heart works hard all day long, pumping blood and supplying our vital organs with oxygen and essential nutrients. However, the demands on the heart extend (far) beyond waking hours. So, if we’re not getting adequate sleep, our heart health pays the price. From increased blood pressure, to inflammation, and disruptions in glucose metabolism — all of which contribute to elevated cardiovascular risks — inadequate sleep has been linked to numerous adverse effects. 

Mental Health

Linked to increased irritability, mood swings, and a heightened susceptibility to stress, the bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health is profound — and these are just some of the immediate effects. If continued long-term, chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to the development of more severe mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology found that individuals with chronic sleep disturbances were significantly more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to those with regular, restorative sleep patterns. 

How Much Sleep Do You Need Per Night?

According to the CDC, adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night. However, we’re all unique individuals, meaning, our sleep needs will likely vary based on our lifestyle, genetics, and other medical or environmental factors. Plus, it’s not just about time in bed — sleep quality matters too! Consider how well you sleep. Do you wake up feeling rested? Do you toss and turn all night? Do you struggle to fall asleep? These are all important factors to consider.

Even if you’re getting the recommended 7 hours per night, your sleep quality could be suffering. If you’re struggling to get your sleep in check, here are some science-backed tips to help you snooze away!

7 Tips to Support Restorative Sleep

#1 Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Our body loves routine. In fact, it operates on an internal biological clock, known as our circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (even on weekends) helps synchronize these rhythms, enhancing our overall quality of sleep. Try to choose a time that works for your schedule, and stick to it!

RELATED: Surprising Ways Our Circadian Rhythm Affects Health + 8 Ways to Support It

#2 Optimize Your Sleep Environment

According to research, a cool, dark, and quiet bedroom is the optimal sleep environment for restorative sleep. Invest in comfy pillows or blankets, use blackout curtains or a sleep mask, and wear earplugs if you need to block out noise.

#3 Avoid Stimulants Late in the Day

If you’re an afternoon coffee drinker, you’re going to want to kick this habit! Coffee and other caffeinated beverages can keep you stimulated and interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Instead, opt for calming herbal teas or stress-relieving alternatives, like a golden milk superfood latte (which you can easily make at home!).

#4 Limit Screen Time Before Bed

Speaking of stimulants, electronic devices (like smartphones, laptops, and TVs) emit blue light, a type of light that interferes with the body’s natural production of melatonin, a hormone important for regulating sleep. Limiting screen time at least an hour or two before bed (if not more) sends a message to the body that it’s time to wind down. Rather than scrolling at night, consider replacing screen time with calming activities to support sound sleep, like reading or listening to a Yoga Nidra meditation.

#5 Incorporate Regular Exercise

Staying active with daily exercise can promote more restful sleep at night. However, it’s important to time workouts mindfully; intense exercise close to bedtime may have a stimulating effect, so you’ll want to plan accordingly! Perform HIIT and strength workouts earlier in the day, and opt for relaxing exercises like yin yoga in the evening.

#6 Be Mindful of Meal Timing

While not all late-night snacks are bad, avoiding heavy meals close to bedtime is ideal in order to prevent discomfort and indigestion. To support your sleep, aim to have your last substantial meal at least two to three hours before bedtime. This allows the body enough time to digest the food and reduces the risk of digestive disturbances, which can, in turn, disturb sleep!

#7 Incorporate Relaxation Techniques Into Your Day

Practices like meditation, yin yoga, Yoga Nidra, and deep breathing are all science-supported methods to regulate our nervous system, reduce stress, and support sleep. These techniques work by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the “rest and digest” system, helping the body shift from a state of stress to one of calm. Taking a proactive approach and incorporating these practices before sleep issues arise not only addresses potential sleep disturbances in advance, but also helps build your overall mental and emotional resilience!

RELATED: 10-Minute Hacks to Reset Your Nervous System

Understanding The Science Behind Sleep

The research is clear — insufficient sleep poses a significant threat to various aspects of our health! From cognitive function to heart health and mental well-being, prioritizing quality sleep is an absolute must. However, if you’re struggling to sleep, you’re not alone. Use this research-backed knowledge and our practical tips to motivate and guide you on your sleep journey. Before you know it, you’ll be sleeping like a pro. That said, if you’re experiencing persistent sleep issues that disrupt your everyday life, seek professional guidance from your doctor or another medical professional. This can help identify underlying issues specific to your body, where you can develop targeted interventions to get your sleep back on track. At the very least, ruling out anything more serious will give you peace of mind. Now, get snoozing!