By Gabriella Fiorino

In the busy lives of Americans, it is often difficult to find time for adequate relaxation. Many pursuing successful careers and superior school grades stay awake until the early morning hours. However, this habit is regarded today as an epidemic, leading to the onset of numerous severe illnesses.

As defined in the book Why We Sleep by neurophysiologist Dr. Matthew Walker, sleep deprivation is characterized by getting less than seven hours of rest in a night. A staggering number of Americans fall into this category, with the CDC finding that one-third of the working U.S. population has fewer than six hours per night.

Such deprivation contributes to the onset of heart diseases, dementia, diabetes, cancer, infertility, and many other illnesses. Furthermore, numerous deaths per year occur from drowsy driving. Is staying up late worth the risk?

Heart Health

According to the CDC, 610,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year, accounting for one in every four deaths. Dr. Walker notes that adults 40 years of age or older who are snoozing less than six hours a night are at a 200% increased chance of having a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime. This statistic holds true even after controlling for smoking, physical activity, and body mass.

Immune Health

A lack of sleep also disables the immune system from fighting cancer cells, as described by the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. When unchallenged, these cells are capable of multiplying throughout the body. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 609,640 individuals will die from the illness this year.

Exhaustion is associated with a 40% increased probability of developing cancer. Furthermore, researchers at the University of Chicago conducted a study during which they examined fatigued lab mice who ominously experienced tumor growth up to 200% more quickly. Slower metastasis typically promotes greater survival rates, while accelerated growth contributes to fatality.

Weakened immune health also escalates the chance of becoming infected by the common cold. Dr. Walker explains that exposure to the common cold displays a 50% infection rate in those resting only five hours a night, compared to 18% prevalence in those receiving seven hours or more.


Dr. Walker states that a lack of slumber contributes to the buildup of amyloid plaques, which significantly heightens the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Liberty Nation previously reported that beta-amyloid plaques form as a result of the breakdown of precursor proteins, which are naturally occurring substances in the brain. Abnormally high levels of amyloids inhibit neuronal communication and spur cell death.

It is uncertain whether fatigue aids in causing the onset of Alzheimer’s or is a product of the condition. However, the “glymphatic” system – the mind’s immune response network – partly serves to clear beta-amyloid from the brain during rest. Inadequate slumber results in the currently irreversible buildup of the substance.

Dietary Effects

Those suffering from chronic exhaustion often experience a weight gain of 10 – 15 pounds each year, as reported by Dr. Walker. The condition causes “junk food” cravings, with a 33% rise in levels of endocannabinoids, the same mechanism found with marijuana use, Medical News Today states. On average, it also leads to an extra 300 calories becoming consumed.

Furthermore, it disrupts hormone levels by decreasing leptin and increasing ghrelin, responsible for satiety-signaling and hunger-instigation, respectively. Thus, those impacted often do not feel satisfied after a meal.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods, such as cookies and pasta, surged by 30 to 40% when sleep deprived. These products provide immediate energy for the body and are the first to become depleted. Thus, eating excess carbohydrates without a balance of other foods leads to higher caloric intake as the body becomes desperate to continue obtaining an immediate energy source. Without sufficient nutrition, weight gain results.

Concerningly, 70% of pounds lost due to dieting while fatigued comes from muscle mass instead of fat, regardless of the hours spent at the gym to achieve otherwise.

Dr. Walker declares that it also boosts one’s chance of becoming diabetic, as cells lose their full ability to absorb glucose sufficiently. This blocks the release of insulin, which is a hormone that permits cells to consume sugar. Excess remains of sugar in the bloodstream can spur the onset of diabetes.


According to JAMA, a peer-reviewed medical journal, chronic sleep deprivation significantly diminishes testosterone concentrations. As a result, sperm count is also reduced by about 29% and is subject to deformities, decreasing fertility levels.

The reproductive health of both males and females is impacted, as proclaimed by Dr. Walker. Chronically exhausted women are significantly more likely to have a miscarriage and experience difficulties in becoming pregnant. They may also develop abnormal menstrual cycles, triggering hormonal imbalances and thus alterations to personality.

Automobile Accidents

The Foundation for Traffic Safety states that drowsy drivers are at twice the risk of getting into an auto accident. In fact, 20% of fatal crashes in the U.S. involve fatigued drivers, with the rate gradually increasing each year. Although discouraging the operation of motor vehicles while under the influence of drugs and alcohol is vital, a new movement is required to increase awareness about the perils of driving while sleep deprived, as it accounts for nearly as many annual deaths.

As millions of Americans admit to poor sleeping habits, countless lives are lost each year. Although infrequently mentioned during discussions on public health, fighting this crisis is vital to the survival and flourishing of our beautiful nation.

What are the thoughts of our readers? Do you believe the epidemic has had deleterious effects on someone you know?

Read More - The American Sleep Deprivation Epidemic at Liberty Nation.

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