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Sleep deprivation can have a serious negative impact on your health. Getty Images
  • New research found when healthy men in their 20s got only 5 hours of sleep per night, the way their bodies metabolized fat shifted.
  • Rather than evaporating triglyceride-rich lipoproteins that have been linked to the formation of clogging and dangerous fatty plaques in the arteries, their bodies began storing them.
  • Additional research has found the number of people who aren’t getting a healthy amount of sleep each night continues to rise.
  • Sleep deprivation over a period of time has been linked to several serious health conditions including hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and a suppressed immune system.

We’re not getting enough sleep — and that’s having a significant impact on our day-to-day and long-term health.

From mental health to how our bodies store fat, recent research is adding to evidence that illustrates how much sleep deprivation can, and is, impacting our individual and collective health, particularly in the United States.

It’s been well-documented that getting adequate sleep helps strengthen our immune system and is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including obesity and type 2 diabetes.

One such way sleep deprivation hurts us, researchers at Pennsylvania State University suggest, is that it makes us feel less full even after eating a high-fat dinner.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Lipid Research, addressed how getting 5 hours of sleep a night, 4 days a week — followed by one 10-hour night of “recovery sleep” — affected 15 healthy men in their 20s.

Specifically, how it affected their postprandial lipemia, or the rise of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins that’s been linked to the formation of clogging and dangerous fatty plaques in the arteries.

What the researchers found wasn’t good.

“The lipids weren’t evaporating — they were being stored,” Orfeu Buxton, PhD, a professor at Penn State and one of the senior authors of the new study, said in a press release.

Experts are still unable to pinpoint exactly why getting enough sleep is a problem, but they say stress from work not only impacts our sleep, but that lack of sleep makes our jobs more stressful.

Another recent study by Ball State University researchers found that nearly a third of working Americans report getting 7 hours of sleep or less, a trend they say is getting worse by the year.

The team, lead by health science professor Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, analyzed 150,000 working American adults from 2010 to 2018. They found nearly 31 percent weren’t getting enough sleep in 2010, but that increased to almost 36 percent over the next 8 years.

The results were nearly identical for men and women, but some races and professions are getting hit harder than others.

“This is a significant finding because the U.S. is currently witnessing high rates of chronic diseases across all ages, and many of these diseases are related to sleep problems,” Dr. Khubchandani said in a statement accompanying the research.

The researchers at Ball State found African Americans and multi-racial adults saw the largest increases, with each group having more than 45 percent of study participants reporting that they don’t get enough sleep. It adds to the racial disparities ingrained in U.S. healthcare.

Between 45 and 50 percent of people working in the healthcare field and the police and military reported being sleep deprived.

Forty-one percent of people in transport, material moving, and production occupations reported the same thing.

That’s of particular concern considering these high-stress jobs often result in life-or-death decisions made in windows lasting only seconds — from avoiding accidents on the road to de-escalating a potentially fatal encounter.

It doesn’t help that they also typically involve long and odd hours, making a routine sleep pattern more difficult.

Khubchandani said not only is inadequate sleep associated with mild to severe physical and mental health problems, injury, loss of productivity, and premature mortality, but there’s no definitively known cause found for why fewer people are getting the sleep they need.

“We see the workplace is changing as Americans work longer hours, and there is greater access and use of technology and electronic devices, which tend to keep people up at night,” he said.

“Add to this the progressive escalation in workplace stress in the United States and the rising prevalence of multiple chronic conditions could be related to short sleep duration in working American adults,” he added.

Khubchandani said one thing employers can do is take steps to make sure their workers are getting enough rest.

“We all suffer when our bus and truck drivers, doctors, and nurses are sleep deprived,” he said.

And people in the medical field agree. But their busy schedules and long hours make it unrealistic to get enough restorative 7-hour-plus nights of sleep a week.

“We’re the worst offenders,” Dr. Shanon Makekau, chief of pulmonary and sleep medicine at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, in Honolulu, told Healthcare Website.

Makekau says not getting enough sleep can affect the way we think and react, which includes decreased alertness and memory impairment.

“Sadly, poor sleep also affects our mood,” she said.

Over a long period of time, more hours of lost rest increase a person’s risk of accidents and an overall poor quality of life, Makekau said.

Physically that can translate to not only obesity and diabetes, but also high blood pressure, a suppressed immune system, low sex drive, and an overall chance of death apart from any other medical condition.

Mentally that can lead to anxiety, depression, paranoia, and even hallucinations.

In children, a lack of sleep can lead to hyperactivity, which could be confused as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“For so long we’ve talked about being mindful of our health with diet and exercise,” Makekau said. “Something we take for granted is sleep until we don’t get enough.”

Some of the most common reasons people give Makekau for missing sleep is work and social responsibilities, which include overusing personal technology to stay up to date on social media.

Those ubiquitous screens, whether it be phones, tablets, computers, or televisions, emit a blue light that messes with our sleep patterns.

“It’s harder for the brain to turn off,” Makekau said. “Let the mind have time to wind down.”

It’s recommended to avoid those glowing screens an hour — 2, ideally — before bedtime.

But using technology by setting a sleep alarm telling you it’s time to climb into a comfortable bed in a quiet, dark room is one way to use technology to help you sleep.

You can also use a device like a Fitbit to track your sleep patterns.

“In the current climate of technology,” Makekau said, “we can use it to our benefit rather than our detriment.”