How Sleep Deprivation Can Literally Kill You — & What You Can Do About It

Some 30-35% of American adults are regularly sleep-deprived, and sadly, Starbucks isn't going to save us. A common approach to handling a hectic schedule is to skimp on shuteye during the week, then "catch up" over the weekend — but as the TED-Ed video above reminds us, that strategy won't help us avoid the ill effects of a sleep shortage on our learning, memory, mood, and reaction time. In extreme cases, sleep deprivation can even lead to death.

As the video explains, when we're awake, our cells use up our energy sources to power us through our day. Adenosine is a byproduct of this process and, as it accumulates, it makes us sleepy (caffeine, incidentally, keeps us alert by blocking adenosine's receptor pathways). Then, when we finally hit the hay, the glymphatic system — which is much more active when we're asleep — kicks into gear to flush away adenosine and other toxic byproducts, which are believed to cause sleep deprivation's nasty side effects.

Trouble concentrating and a bad mood (at least until that first double espresso) may not seem like such a big deal, but as the video states, "Studies show that chronically sleeping fewer than six hours a night increases stroke risk by 4.5 times compared to those getting a consistent seven to eight hours of shuteye" — a great reason to skip the last episode of your nightly Netflix session.

If you're always tired, there are a few tricks for getting your sleep schedule back on track. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you go to sleep and wake up at consistent times every day to help regulate your body's clock; that you avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime (alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but it could mess up your sleep later in the night), and that you create a Zen sleeping space, free of light and clutter that's ideally between 60 and 67 degrees.

If you want to accessorize, ear plugs, eye shades, white noise machines, fans, humidifiers, and blackout curtains are some sleep-friendly choices. We know, none of this sounds like quite as much fun as luscious late-night meals or midnight Twitter, so if you need extra motivation, watch the video above for a reminder of what happens when you don't get those winks.

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