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Sleep deprivation is when a person sleeps for an insufficient amount of time, typically less than seven hours a night. While a person is asleep, his or her body regenerates itself both mentally and physically. Not sleeping for enough uninterrupted hours can prevent the regeneration process, causing both immediate and long-term consequences. The effects of sleep deprivation can be both physical and mental, but the severity depends on how frequently a person is sleep-deprived.
One of the first immediate effects of sleep deprivation is the reduced ability to concentrate. When a person does not get enough sleep, it makes it more difficult for the brain to take in new information, so he or she may not able to respond as quickly to situations or remember new information. This lack of ability to focus may result in performing poorly on tests or work tasks. If the sleep deprivation is severe enough, a person may not be able to safely operate a vehicle and may be at a higher risk of getting into accidents.
Weight gain and obesity are also possible effects of sleep deprivation. Since the body does not have a sufficient amount of energy to get through the day immediately after sleep deprivation, it may react by making a person crave food items that will temporarily increase blood sugar. These items often include simple carbohydrates, such as sugary desserts, salty snack foods, or starchy breads or pastas. Although these food will increase blood sugar and give a quick surge of energy, they also tend to cause weight gain because they are high in calories and don’t make a person feel satisfied for long periods of time.
If a person continues to regularly miss out on regular amounts of sleep, he or she may be more likely to get sick. Since the body cannot regenerate itself long enough during sleep, the immune system may be weakened. The immune system is the body’s way of attacking illnesses, so a weak immune system may not have the strength to effectively fight off illness. A sleep-deprived person is at a higher risk of catching basic illnesses like colds or the flu.
The long-term effects of sleep deprivation can result in serious health problems. Lack of sleep can contribute to hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, a condition in which the blood vessels become constricted and have difficulty delivering enough blood throughout the body. Hypertension can result in heart attack, stroke, or death. Sleep deprivation can also result in emotional or physical stress, which in certain cases can lead to severe depression.