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Public Health 101: 5 Things You Should Know About Sleep Deprivation

Public health professionals want people to take sleep seriously.

One in every three Americans doesn’t get enough sleep.* If you’re between the ages of 18–60 and are getting less than 7 hours of sleep every day, you’re part of that 33%. But is being sleep deprived really that bad? According to doctors and public health professionals, it is.

Here are five things you need to know about sleep deprivation.

Public Health 101: 5 Things You Should Know About Sleep Deprivation

Sleep Deprivation Makes It Harder to Think Clearly

If you’ve ever gone a night with little to no sleep, you probably remember the foggy-headed feeling you had the next day. Studies have shown that robbing our bodies of sleep also robs our neurons of their energy and ability to function. In a sleep-deprived person, neurons respond and transmit slower than usual, which negatively impacts their ability to encode information and translate visual input into thought. In short, not getting enough sleep is like drugging your brain.

Sleep Deprivation Can Weaken Your Immune System

Our immune systems are incredibly complex and capable of constantly adapting to fight off pathogens. But sleep deprivation can throw a wrench into the works. That’s because the day-to-day operation of our immune system is built around our sleep cycle, with some tasks occurring while we’re awake and some occurring while we’re asleep. Without proper sleep, our immune system can’t optimally complete functions like forming immunological memory, which can put us at an increased risk for infection.

Sleep Deprivation Can Hurt Your Heart

While your heart beats all day long, its health may be dependent on how often it’s beating while you’re asleep. Over the years, multiple studies have shown a link between sleep deprivation and increased incidents of heart and circulatory disease, with one study finding that sleep-deprived people have a 48% increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease, and a 15% greater risk of developing or dying from stroke.§ Medical scientists still aren’t entirely sure why sleep deprivation can lead to heart and circulatory disease, but it appears our bodies need sleep to optimally control factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol production. Not sleeping enough makes it harder to control those factors, which raises our overall risks for heart and circulatory disease.

Sleep Deprivation Negatively Impacts Your Mood

A bad night’s sleep can put us in a bad mood. Studies have shown that missing even a few hours of sleep every night for a week can leave us feeling stressed, angry, and sad.** This is most likely because our brains need rest to function properly. Without that rest, our brains struggle to regulate mood.

You Can Avoid Sleep Deprivation in a Number of Ways

For many, getting more sleep is easier said than done. But there are steps you can take to increase your ability to get a full night’s sleep, every night. You can:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid using your bed for eating, reading, watching TV, and all similar activities.
  • Keep your bedroom dark in the evening and at night.
  • Avoid naps.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine—particularly in the evening.
  • If you can’t sleep, get up and do something else in another room until you feel tired.
  • If nothing else works, see a sleep specialist.

You Can Help Fight Against Sleep Deprivation With a Public Health Degree

If you’re interested in helping reduce the number of people suffering from sleep deprivation, you should consider enrolling in a public health graduate program and earning a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. When you earn a master’s in public health, you can gain the skills you need to develop and lead important public health programs, including those focused on sleep deprivation.

Fortunately, you don’t have to lose sleep to prepare for a job in public health that’s focused on sleep deprivation. That’s because online education makes it more convenient than ever before to earn a master of public health degree. Rather than forcing you to travel to a campus, an online MPH program lets you handle your studies from home. Plus, online learning gives you the ability to manage your educational schedule and choose when in the day you attend class. This makes it possible to complete even the best MPH programs while continuing to work full time.

Sleep deprivation is just one of many public health issues that communities around the world are trying to address. Through an online public health degree program, you can help these communities solve their biggest health problems.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Public Health degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on the internet at

†E. Schmidt, Spacing Out After Staying Up Late? Here’s Why, UCLA, on the internet at

‡L. Besedovsky, et. al., Sleep and Immune Function, Pflugers Archiv, on the internet at

§C. Boufis, How Your Sleep Affects Your Heart, WebMD, on the internet at

**Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Sleep and Mood, Harvard University, on the internet at