WORK-LIFE BALANCE

5 Ways Science Says Lack of Sleep Will Ruin Your Life

Think you'll sleep when you're dead? You'll probably die sooner--and your life won't be as fun as it could be. So says science.
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I was watching a television news story about how overwhelmed we all are and how few of us get enough sleep. Smugly, I congratulated myself on having gotten control of my schedule. Then it occurred to me that it was 7:30 a.m., I was eating breakfast, and I had been working until after 3 a.m. the night before.

This column is intended not only to offer you some good advice, therefore, but also to be a reminder for me, as well--both to get more sleep and to stop being a hypocrite. Chances are, you don't get enough sleep, and you might not even be realizing it. Even worse, have you succumbed to the modern tendency to brag about how rarely you get a full eight hours of shuteye?

I'm here to help, not judge. Here are five science-based reasons to quit reading this column and get some sleep.

1. Lack of sleep harms productivity.

Are you skipping sleep to work more? According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, even if skipping sleep allows you to accomplish more in the short term, it will kill your long-term productivity:

Not getting enough sleep--whether for just one night or over the course of weeks to months--has a significant effect on our ability to function. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher-level cognitive functions.

2. Lack of sleep kills you slowly.

The next time you're tempted to think that you'll sleep when you're dead--well, you just might be making that day come sooner. Just a short perusal of research on what lack of sleep does to your body will make you want to go back to bed. Among the worst effects, according to WebMD: all kinds of heart issues (including risk of heart attack and stroke), diabetes, and obesity.

3. Lack of sleep harms other people.

It's not just the increased irritability and lack of focus that you are certainly familiar with; it's that your ability to do even simple tasks is measurably impaired. For example, Harvard found that "drowsy driving" is among the causes of one-fifth of U.S. car crashes, leading to the deaths of 8,000 people a year.

4. Lack of sleep hurts your appearance.

Yes, you know what it's like to look tired. However, now data shows that it's not just black circles under your eyes. According to one study, those who sleep fewer than six hours a night have a 30 percent higher chance of becoming obese than those who sleep between seven and nine hours. Moreover, it also ages your skin.

When you don't get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic. Sleep loss also causes the body to release too little human growth hormone.

5. Lack of sleep kills your sex drive.

If nothing else in this list will get your attention, maybe this will. It's not just a matter of being too tired to do anything else in bed; lack of sleep kills libido. At least for men, there is at least one scientific study that says it can also wreck your testosterone levels.

Fortunately, we seem to be on the crest of a trend in which people are coming clean about making sleep a priority. If you can't pull off a full eight hours, at least take a nap.

Want to read more, make suggestions, or even be featured in a future column? Contact me and sign up for my weekly email.

Last updated: May 21, 2014

BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist

Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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