The Health Effects of Not Sleeping Well

08/31/2016 | 1 min. read

Dr. Richard Wurtman

Dr. Richard Wurtman

Learn how chronic sleep problems can influence your other health risk factors

Feeling tired and irritable may be the most obvious effects of not sleeping well, but they are not the only ways that sleep problems impact us. Chronically poor sleep can influence many aspects of our health, including:

  • Blood sugar levels. Multiple studies, including the well-known Nurses’ Health Study, have shown that not sleeping well increases risk for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Heart health, including blood pressure. Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that in study participants ages 32–59, those who reported five or less hours of sleep per night were twice as likely to be diagnosed with hypertension.
  • Weight management. A study of adults ages 67–96 found that those who slept less than five hours per night had a higher body mass index (BMI) than those who slept 7–8 hours. The “short sleepers” also had more central body fat and a higher total body fat percentage.
  • Mood and memory. Numerous studies have linked sleep problems with a higher incidence of depression and impaired memory.
  • Immune function. In a study of healthy males, average age 35, who were subjected to just one night of partial night sleep deprivation, researchers found decreases in markers of immune health, including the number and activity of NK cells.

Improve Your Sleep, Maximize Your Health

Because people who consistently sleep less than seven hours each night are more likely to experience additional health concerns than people who sleep more than seven hours, it makes sense that addressing a sleep problem can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to benefit your overall health.

Obviously, the first step in doing this is to identify why you’re not sleeping well. There are dozens of factors that influence sleep duration and quality, but I find that one of the most overlooked causes is disruption in the body’s ability to produce melatonin—particularly in people age 50 and older

More Dr. Wurtman Advice on Sleep

Dr. Richard Wurtman

Meet Dr. Richard Wurtman

Richard Wurtman, M.D. is a noted Harvard doctor and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researcher specializing in sleep and cognitive sciences. He is widely recognized for his groundbreaking research on melatonin over the past 40 years. He has done research for the NIH and with NASA, and is the author and editor of 18 books, holder of more than 50 patents, and author or co-author of over 1,000 scientific papers.

More About Dr. Richard Wurtman