While training as a pulmonary fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, I became fascinated by patients who suffered from sleep-related breathing disorders. Many of these patients stop breathing hundreds of times every night.

I decided that the evaluation and treatment of patients with the obstructive sleep apnea syndrome would ultimately play an important part of my career as a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician.In 1987, I became an attending physician at Pennsylvania Hospital. As I began to lecture other physicians about the obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, many referrals followed. In 1991, along with Dr. Charles Cantor, I started a one-bed sleep center. This center quickly grew to a four-bed program performing 1,000 sleep studies per year. My fascination with sleep medicine evolved and I became interested in all aspects of sleep disorders.

This article will focus on the dangers of not getting enough sleep and how sleep deprivation can kill you.

Sleep Deprivation Can Kill You

In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison illuminated the world with the incandescent light bulb. Little did he know that his great work would someday be a major contributing factor to the development of widespread sleep deprivation. In 1900, adults in the United States slept an average of nine hours per night. In 2000, adults slept an average of just seven hours per night. We have not evolved to need less sleep, but we are getting less sleep. In past centuries, our sleep/wake cycle was closely linked to the rotation of the earth. We slept when it was dark and we awoke and worked when it was light.

However, with the development and widespread availability of artificial light, we have prolonged our waking hours. Stimulants such as caffeine have also contributed to longer periods of wakefulness.Now that we’re all getting less sleep, you should know the five ways sleep deprivation can kill you.

1. You could die in a car crash

It is estimated that 100,000 car crashes occur yearly because of drowsy driving. This contributes to 1,500 deaths and countless disabling injuries annually on our highways.

2. You could die at work

You undoubtedly are judged at work on a regular basis. Not getting enough sleep will affect your job performance and could contribute to being passed over for promotion or loss of your job. Worse yet, if your work involves operating heavy machinery or driving a motorized vehicle such as a truck, bus or forklift, you could hurt or kill yourself or someone else.

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3. You could become irritable, depressed and suicidal

Deep refreshing sleep is essential for feeling rested and well. If you are not getting enough sleep, this could make you feel very sad and could contribute to significant relationship difficulties. If this is a chronic condition, your prolonged depressed state could lead to thoughts of suicide.

4. You could gain weight

Obesity is a major problem in the United States. It contributes to premature death from problems such as heart attacks and strokes. While poor eating habits certainly contribute, lack of sleep is also likely a factor. The hormone leptin has a significant impact on appetite for food. Increased levels suppress appetite. There is evidence that not getting enough sleep lowers your leptin levels. This results in an increase in appetite and weight gain. So getting better sleep can help you lose weight.

5. You could develop diabetes mellitus

Diabetes is associated with increased levels of sugar in your blood. It is the No. 1 cause of blindness in the United States and contributes to many other life-threatening problems such as heart attacks, strokes and renal disease requiring dialysis. It can shorten your life. There is evidence that not getting enough sleep can lead to metabolic changes that cause diabetes mellitus.

Sleep Tight

Sleep is essential for our well-being. As we get older, good sleep is often harder to come by. With the aging process, we experience less of the deep sleep known as slow-wave sleep. Combine this with medical problems such as arthritis, reflux, heart and lung disease and you have a recipe for ongoing sleep problems.