The Truth Behind Sleep: Why Sleep Deficiency May Do You More Harm Than You Realize

Sleep Deprived Man

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and a higher risk of dementia. Hormonal disruptions and reduced physical activity contribute to weight gain, while increased blood pressure raises the risk of heart disease. Poor sleep quality also exacerbates depression and increases dementia risk.

We all struggle to get enough sleep sometimes. Whether it’s through work, stress, worry, or just one of those nights, sleepless nights are a part of life. While an occasional bad night will not cause you any harm, regularly missing out on between 5 and 9 hours a night can lead to problems. So, what should you look out for if you fall into this category?


While it may seem that being awake longer would result in more physical activity and more weight loss, the opposite is actually true. Research has found that people with sleep deprivation actually do less because of fatigue.[1] On top of this, there is a disruption in the levels of various hormones that cause cravings for high fat and high calorific foods. This all adds up to increase the risk of weight gain and obesity.

Cardiovascular Disease

Studies have shown a greater risk of many types of cardiovascular disease in those averaging 5 hours of sleep a night or less.[2] This is partly down to the increased risk of obesity, but other issues are also at play. A lack of sleep triggers the sympathetic nervous system that prepares the body for stress, resulting in increased blood pressure. This increases the risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.


Poor sleep quality and depression are intrinsically linked.[3] The less you sleep, the more likely you will suffer from depression, and the lower your mood, the less likely you will get enough sleep. This cycle can be challenging to break for those susceptible to mental illness. This makes getting enough sleep even more important if you or your family have a history of depression.


Research shows that sleeping less than five hours a night doubles the chances of developing dementia compared to sleeping between five and nine hours.[4] The risk is particularly significant for the over 65s, but even missing out on sleep in mid-life can increase risk later on. Unfortunately, mid-life is when we experience the most stress and are most likely to sleep less. So, if this applies to you, you may wish to alter your routine to allow for more time in bed.

Missing out on sleep doesn’t just make you feel groggy the next day. Continually having less sleep than necessary could lead to many health problems. If you struggle to fall asleep, you could consider altering your nighttime routine or replanning your day to get enough shut-eye. Your body will thank you for it in the long run. 


  1. “Association between Reduced Sleep and Weight Gain in Women” by Sanjay R. Patel, Atul Malhotra, David P. White, Daniel J. Gottlieb and Frank B. Hu, 16 August 2006, American Journal of Epidemiology.
    DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwj280
  2. “Relationship of Sleep Duration With All‐Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events: A Systematic Review and Dose‐Response Meta‐Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies” by Jiawei Yin, Xiaoling Jin, Zhilei Shan, Shuzhen Li, Hao Huang, Peiyun Li, Xiaobo Peng, Zhao Peng, Kaifeng Yu, Wei Bao, Wei Yang, Xiaoyi Chen and Liegang Liu, 9 September 2017, Journal of the American Heart Association.
    DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.117.005947
  3. “Association of sleep duration in middle and old age with incidence of dementia” by Séverine Sabia, Aurore Fayosse, Julien Dumurgier, Vincent T. van Hees, Claire Paquet, Andrew Sommerlad, Mika Kivimäki, Aline Dugravot and Archana Singh-Manoux, 20 April 2021, Nature Communications.
    DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-22354-2
  4. “Insomnia and incident depression: role of objective sleep duration and natural history” by Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, Sarah Shea, Alexandros N. Vgontzas, Susan L. Calhoun, Duanping Liao and Edward O. Bixler, 27 February 2015, Journal of Sleep Research.
    DOI: 10.1111/jsr.12285

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