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Poor sleep is as damaging as binge drinking

The definition of sleep deprivation varies and there is some individual variance. A general definition, however, is a time period of less than six hours per night. The odd night here or there is not regarded as being of medical significance; however, there is an adverse cumulative health effect, according to researcher Dr. Adrian Owen who has worked with the digital health company Medisys Preventive Health.

The health consequences include an elevated risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke. In other words, the effects of sleep deprivation negatively affect the whole body. The biggest consequences, however, are with the brain. This is a serious matter since social trends suggest that sleep deprivation is a common ‘modern ill’ with many people, for work or social reasons, getting less sleep than they should do. There are also economic consequences, with CTV News reporting that, for Canada, the impact of tired workers or workers with sleep related ill-health costs the economy $21.4 billion (U.S. dollars) each year.

Handsfree driving

Hands-free driving.
Photo courtesy Avaya

The effects of sleep deprivation on the brain appear worse than previously realized, according to Dr. Owen. In communication to Digital Journal the researcher says: “Sleep plays an important role in regulating the hormones that influence hunger (ghrelin, cortisol, and leptin) that’s why sleep deprivation increases appetite and lads to overeating and weight gain.”

The researcher also highlights that driving while sleep deprived is the cognitive impairment equivalent of drunk driving. This equivalency of the brain acting as if the body is intoxicated is supported by research published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine (“Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognition and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication”).

Digital health technology to monitor sleep deprivation can help to track sleep and provide support for those trying to get a good night’s sleep. As examples of what is available, the website ‘No Sleepless Nights’ has reviews of ten of the leading products on the market.

Another technological innovation, aimed at tired drivers, is an artificial intelligence platform from Panasonic. Digital Journal has reviewed this in the article “Artificial intelligence helps to jeep tired drivers awake.”

With the sleep deprivation, cognitive impairment effect connection, long periods of both wakefulness and alcohol consumption are cumulative. A greater risk arises when, for the sleep deprived person, when even a small glass of wine or beer is added this creates a considerable problem should the person intend to drive.

To investigate these concerns further, Dr. Adrian Owen, who is a neuroscientist at Western University and the Chief Scientific Officer of Cambridge Brain Sciences is about to launch the World’s Largest Sleep Study to better understand the connection between brain health and healthy sleep. The study is currently open for volunteers to enroll.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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