The effects of sleep deprivation are widely known, but paradoxically not the first thing people think of when they suffer these effects. If you’re having frequent and recurring bouts of heartburn your diet and not your poor sleep schedule is likely to be the first thing that you think of, or that your heartburn is costing you sleep and not the other way around. The truth is the effects of sleep deprivation are responsible for a wide array of symptoms that can easily be mistaken for other illnesses.

In this excerpt from the book Real Cause, Real Cure by Jacob Teitelbaum, MD and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors explain how the effects of sleep deprivation may be the real cause of what ails you.

Poor Sleep, Poor Health

What happens during the one-third or so of your life when you’re asleep? Surprisingly, scientists don’t really know. But they theorize that sleep provides…

  • Rest for a body and mind worn out by the day’s activity.
  • Repair, as the sleeping body generates human growth hormone (HGH, also called the fountain-of-youth hormone), which fuels tissue growth in childhood and tissue repair in adults. In a study from researchers at the University of Chicago, reducing deep sleep by 90 minutes a night cut the production of HGH by 23 percent.
  • Mental and emotional maintenance, as memories are filed and dreams process complicated emotions

But even if scientists don’t know exactly how sleep works to keep you healthy, they know what can happen when you don’t get enough. You can get sick! And in a lot of different ways…

•Anxiety and worry. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that people who had trouble sleeping were nearly six times more likely to have an “anxiety disorder” such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)—near-constant worrying that’s often out of proportion to the situation you’re worried about. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found that insomnia was linked to “subclinical anxiety” (not bad enough to be diagnosed with GAD, but bad enough to bother you). Easing chronic insomnia may prevent anxiety, said Norwegian researchers, who conducted an 11-year study showing that insomniacs were three times as likely to have an anxiety disorder

•Brain shrinkage. Dutch researchers measured brain volume in insomniacs who were otherwise psychologically healthy and found smaller amounts of gray matter in the left orbitofrontal cortex—the part of the brain linked to pleasure and rest. “This study suggests that there are additional risks of not treating insomnia, such as detrimental effects on the microstructure of the brain,” said the editor of Biological Psychiatry, the journal in which the study appeared.

•Burnout. In this condition, you feel exhausted and disinterested because of long-term stress. (Nurses, psychologists, and people in other “helping professions” are particularly prone.) Israeli researchers reported in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research that insomniacs were 64 percent more likely to suffer from burnout. And in a study from France, researchers found that insomnia made it 14 times more likely a person would suffer from burnout! In fact, concluded the researchers, “job strain represents a burnout risk factor only if associated with insomnia.”

•Depression. Dutch researchers found that insomniacs were 42 percent more likely to be depressed. “Depressive disorder is strongly associated with sleep disturbances,” concluded the researchers in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. And insomnia is not just a common symptom of depression, asserted researchers from Stanford University in a paper in Current Psychiatry Reports. Insomnia also can play a role in causing the illness, they wrote.

•Diabetes. In a study published in Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews, scientists analyzed 10 years of health data, and found that people with chronic insomnia were 51 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. One way that sleep loss may cause diabetes is by decreasing insulin sensitivity—the ability of cells to respond to insulin, the hormone that ushers glucose out of the bloodstream and into muscle and fat cells.

•Emotional intelligence. People with “emotional intelligence” are aware of their own emotions and the emotions of others, and that awareness positively influences their decisions and behaviors. Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research found that sleep deprivation decreased emotional intelligence. In their study published in the journal Sleep Medicine, they also found that the sleep-deprived had lower scores on tests measuring several other positive psychological traits, such as assertiveness, independence, stress management skills, and positive thinking. Sleep loss, theorized the researchers, causes a “mild dysfunction” in the prefrontal lobe, the part of the brain that controls emotions and thinking.

•Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). This condition, caused by shortened, tightened muscles, is characterized by pain—sometimes chronic, sometimes intermittent, usually all over the body but sometimes only in specific areas. In a study in the journal Pain, researchers at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine evaluated 50 women with fibromyalgia and found that those who did not sleep well reported more pain; a night of poor sleep was followed by a more painful day; and a more painful day was followed by a night of poorer sleep (creating a vicious cycle all too familiar to the millions of people with fibromyalgia). Poor sleep also seemed to make pain more prominent, regardless of its intensity. And in a study in the Clinical Journal of Pain, people with fibromyalgia and insomnia were nearly four times more likely to take antidepressants, three times more likely to take muscle relaxants, and 59 percent more likely to take opioids.

•Fitness. People who are sleep deprived exercise less, and the smaller amount of exercise they do is less intense, reported German researchers in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “The observed decrease in daytime physical activity may point to another potentially important behavioral mechanism for the health-impairing influence of sleep loss,” they concluded. In other words: less sleep = less exercise = more illness.

•Frailty syndrome. This common problem among people 80 and older is characterized by loss of muscle mass and symptoms such as slower walking, weaker grip, exhaustion, and significant weight loss. It’s often the first sign that a serious and perhaps life-ending illness is around the corner. Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine studied 374 people with an average age of 84 who were living at home and found that those with insomnia were 93 percent more likely to be frail. “Sleep-wake disturbances that present with daytime drowsiness” are linked to frailty, they concluded in the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. And in a study from Mexican researchers, sleep problems tripled the rate of frailty among women aged 70 and older.

•Heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD). In a study of nearly 25,000 people by Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute, those with sleep disturbances and insomnia were three times more likely to develop GERD. And those with GERD were 40 percent more likely to develop sleep problems. That makes the problem “bidirectional” the researchers wrote in the medical journal Sleep: insomnia causes heartburn; heartburn causes insomnia.

•Heart disease and stroke. Two researchers from Harvard Medical School analyzed all the most recent research on the link between insomnia and heart disease, publishing their results in the medical journal Chest. They found that sleep problems increased the risk of…

  • High blood pressure fourfold, or 400 percent
  • Heart attack by 45 percent
  • Heart failure by more than threefold, or 367 percent
  • Death from heart disease by 48 percent

The researchers found that sleep deprivation weakens the heart in several ways. It speeds heart rate (taxing the heart). It makes the rhythm of the heartbeat less variable (making the heart less responsive to challenges of all kinds, from stress to exercise). It generates stress hormones that damage the heart. It increases inflammation, a driving force in cardiovascular disease (and many other diseases, as you learned earlier). And it speeds the development of artery-clogging plaque.

•Memory loss and other types of cognitive decline. Researchers from the Sleep Research and Treatment Center at the Penn State College of Medicine gave nearly 2,000 people tests to measure mental abilities such as memory, speed of processing information, and the ability to switch attention from one task to another. People with the shortest sleep duration had the lowest scores. And in a study of nearly 5,200 people conducted by Finnish researchers, short sleep duration and daytime tiredness and fatigue were linked to “decreased cognitive function.” (There are literally dozens of other studies showing the “cognitive consequences of sleep loss,” as a team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, put it.)

Needless to say, the final step in memory and cognitive decline is dementia—and sleep problems increase the risk of dementia by 36 percent, according to a study in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

•Menopause problems. In the journal Menopause, researchers compared menopausal women who had chronic insomnia with menopausal women who didn’t and found that the poor sleepers had more emergency room visits, a 21 percent greater impairment in overall activity, lower scores on a “physical and mental summary” test, and 17 percent lower productivity at work. And researchers at the University of Maryland concluded that “bothersome menopausal symptoms” such as hot flashes may cause depression in menopausal women because those symptoms disturb sleep.

•Overweight. In a seven-year study of 1,300 women 40 to 60 years old, Finnish researchers linked sleep problems and weight problems. Those who had trouble falling asleep were 65 percent more likely to have “major weight gain” (11 pounds or more). Those who woke up several times during the night were 49 percent more likely to have put on lots of pounds. And those who had trouble staying asleep were 41 percent more likely to have gained extra weight. “To prevent major weight gain and obesity, sleep problems need to be taken into account,” concluded the researchers in the International Journal of Obesity.

What does your bed have to do with your scale? Studies show that insomnia alters levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates your appetite. It also lowers leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone. People who sleep less also eat more calorie-laden fast food, reported researchers at the City University of New York. And researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine showed that women who sleep five hours or less a night have more visceral fat—the abdominal fat around the internal organs that is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

Bottom line: Inadequate sleep can pack on the pounds. Overcoming insomnia can help you sleep your way to weight loss.

•Pain (chronic). Researchers from the University of North Texas studied 772 people and found that those with chronic insomnia had nearly three times the risk of chronic pain, according to a study in the journal Sleep. And in a study in the journal Pain, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that burn victims who had insomnia when they were discharged from the hospital also had “significantly decreased improvement in pain and increased pain severity during long-term follow-up.” The researchers concluded: “This study provides support for a long-term…reciprocal interaction between insomnia and pain.”

Over 35 years, I’ve effectively treated thousands of chronic pain patients and found that eight hours of sleep is a must for making the pain go away.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In PTSD, chronic anxiety is triggered by a traumatic event, such as war, a serious car accident, or an assault. And nine out of 10 people with PTSD also have sleep problems such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and nightmares, according to a scientific report from researchers at the University of California, San Diego, the University of California, San Francisco, and the National Center for PTSD. And, say those researchers, sleep disorders make some of the symptoms of PTSD—depression, substance abuse, impaired daily functioning, poor health, and suicide risk—a lot worse.

•Productivity at work. People with insomnia have “significantly worse productivity, performance, and safety outcomes” at work, reported a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Daytime fatigue from insomnia costs nearly $2,000 a year per employee in productivity losses. In a study from Canada, people with insomnia had 32 percent more absenteeism, 70 percent more reduced productivity, and 49 percent more accidents at work. In studies by Norwegian researchers, those with insomnia were twice as likely to take sick leave and four times as likely to receive a disability pension from the country’s National Insurance Administration. And in a study of 3,000 workers, published in the journal Sleep Health, insomnia was the “strongest predictor” of poor productivity at work.

OSA and RLS: The Other Sleep Disorders

Insomnia isn’t the only common sleep disorder that causes fatigue and other health problems. There’s also obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and restless legs syndrome (RLS), which now is called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) when it occurs only at night. Both are common causes of falling asleep during the day—particularly when watching TV or driving.

In OSA (a condition common among older, overweight men), the soft tissue at the back of the throat plugs the airway during sleep, repeatedly cutting off breathing—and repeatedly waking up the sleeper. OSA is linked to higher risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and erectile dysfunction—and a five-times-higher risk of dying from any cause.

Both RLS and PLMD cause unpleasant sensations in your legs, and your legs get “jumpy.” RLS/PLMD has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, blood sugar problems, overweight, depression, anxiety, hot flashes during menopause, kidney disease, liver disease, migraine headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), erectile dysfunction, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (in children and adults), chronic neck pain, dizziness, and (no surprise) poorer “health-related quality of life.” In one study, women with RLS and daytime sleepiness had an 85 percent higher risk of dying from any cause.

Could you have one of these problems and don’t know it? Possibly. Ask your bed partner if your legs are jumpy or if you snore. Sleeping alone? Use your cell phone to record yourself sleeping. You can find real cures for both of these sleep disorders in Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders.

•Stroke. In a scientific paper in the journal Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, researchers link sleep problems other than sleep apnea to a 20 percent increased risk of stroke. As for sleep apnea itself, the researchers found it triples the risk of stroke.

•Suicide. In a 10-year study of more than 14,000 people ages 67 to 90, researchers at Florida State University linked sleep complaints to a higher rate of committing suicide. In another study, sleep problems were a more important factor in “suicidal ideation” (thinking about suicide) than either depression or hopelessness.

•Urinary problems. Researchers at the University of North Texas found that those with chronic insomnia had nearly double the risk of urinary problems.

After reading about all these health problems that lack of sleep can cause, go ahead and take a nap. And after you wake up, turn to Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders on page 268, where you’ll find a wide variety of easy-to-implement real cures for this real cause.

For more ways to fix root causes of common health problems, purchase Real Cause, Real Cure from

Related Articles