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What are the consequences of sleep deprivation?

Updated 8-26-14: On this morning's Forum, two Stanford sleep experts, including the legendary William Dement, MD, PhD, provided more details on the health consequences of lack of sleep.

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7-11-13: Not getting enough shut-eye each night can have effects beyond making you grouchy and in need of an extra boost of caffeine. As Brandon Peters, MD, an adjunct clinical faculty member at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, explains in a Huffington Post piece, changes in mood are one of several ways in which inadequate sleep can negatively affect your well-being.

He writes:

Not only can someone become cranky or irritable, but difficulty sleeping often contributes to anxiety and depression. Impairment of the frontal lobe of the brain may also interfere with higher level cognitive processes called executive functions. This can undermine judgment, critical thinking, relationships, problem solving, planning, and organization.

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can profoundly affect memory and performance. Attention, concentration, and vigilance become impaired. People who sleep less than 7 hours per night have reaction times that are similar to those who are completely sleep deprived for one or even two nights. This leads to errors, accidents, and impaired work performance. The scary thing is that when you are chronically sleep deprived, you may not even recognize the level of impairment.

Memory becomes compromised in sleep deprivation, with decreased attentiveness affecting our ability to process information. Immediate recall and short-term memory both become impaired. Research shows that memory processing and consolidation occur in sleep and it has a key role in learning and problem solving. When we don't sleep enough, this capacity becomes greatly diminished.

Read the full entry to learn how a lack of sleep can also contribute to hormonal shifts that may lead to increased weight gain and stunted growth in children.

Previously: Stanford center launches Huffington Post blog on the “very mysterious process” of sleep, Study: Parents may not be as sleep-deprived as they think, Exploring the effect of sleep loss on health, How lack of sleep affects the brain and may increase appetite, weight gain, CDC report highlights the dangers of sleep deprivation and Sleep deprivation may increase young adults’ risk of mental distress, obesity
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