We all know that sleep deprivation is not a good thing, but is it actually that bad for our bodies? The answer, quite simply, is yes. You will start to feel a lot of the effects pretty quickly, but there are a few other things that you may not know are also affected.
You usually know you’re in for a bad nights sleep when you start tossing and turning, getting itchy eyes and a rush of uncomfortableness while trying to drift off to sleep. Grumpiness is one of the main side effects as you will probably know. As is a lack of attention and an inability to answer simple questions effectively.
But does sleep deprivation have a profound consequence on your physical health? If so, how bad can it be?
1 in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep. Stress, long hours working on computers and taking work home with us are the frequent blame. But the cost of all those sleepless nights does more to your body than you think. It’s not just a grouchy mood the day after and a less-focussed demeanour.
It turns out that regular bad nights sleep can put you at risk of more serious medical conditions including; obesity, heart disease and diabetes as well as shortening your life expectancy. If that’s not a reason to try and sort out your resting process, I don’t know what is.
How much sleep is needed?
The average human needs around 8 hours of high-quality sleep a night to function properly. Now, that’s not the same for everybody, but what matters is that you find out how much sleep works for you then try and achieve that target. Some people have managed to do polyphasic sleep, but that’s not for everyone.
As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the rest of the day craving for a nap, you’re definitely not getting enough sleep. There are a wide array of factors that can cause poor sleep including health conditions like sleep apnoea. However, in most cases, it’s due to bad sleeping habits.
What can happen if I continue to lack sleep?
Fatigue, short temper and a lack of focus will follow pretty quickly. The occasional night without sleep can make you feel cranky but it won’t overtly harm your health. However, after several sleepless nights, the mental effects can become a lot more serious.
You will start to zone out when asked a question which will stunt your decision-making skills. You can start feeling down and even start to sleep during the day.
Then there are the physical elements, a lack of concentration could mean that you could get involved in a road accident due to slower reflexes and reaction times or even injure yourself at work or around the house.
Are there any other symptoms?
A lack of sleep can weaken your immune system making it harder to get out of the cycle of bad sleep. A prolonged amount of bad sleep can affect your immune system making it harder to build a wall against colds and highly increase the chances of diabetes and heart disease.
A nighttime breaking disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can interrupt your sleep, lowering the quality of your rest. Waking up throughout the night can cause sleep deprivation which in turn can leave you with respiratory infections. If diseases worsen you could be left with chronic lung illnesses.
Much like eating too much and not exercising, sleep deprivation is another risk of becoming obese. Sleep can affect the levels of two hormones; leptin and ghrelin which control feelings of hunger and fullness.
Leptin is the hormone that tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. Without a proper nights sleep, your brain reduces leptin and raises ghrelin which is an appetite stimulant. A fluctuation in these hormones could explain why people binge at night or why you may overeat late at the night. A lack of sleep also affects to weight gain by making you feel too tired to exercise.
Sleep deprivation prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat. Insulin controls your blood sugar levels. A higher insulin level promotes fat storage and an increase of being at risk for type 2 diabetes.
Sleep affects the processes that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. That means that your blood sugars, pressure and inflammation levels are also affected. Sleep plays a vital role in aiding your body’s ability to repair and heal the heart and blood vessels.
One analysis published in the European Journal of Preventative Oncology linked insomnia to an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Hormone production is very much dependent on your sleep. Testosterone production requires at least 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Waking up throughout the night affects your hormone production.
These interruptions can also affect hormone growth, especially in children and adolescents. Hormones help build muscle mass and repair cells and tissue. The pituitary gland releases growth hormones continuously though sleep and exercise are large players in helping induce the release of this hormone.
What are the benefits of sleep?
Some of these may sound obvious, but there are actually quite a few benefits to a good nights sleep. As mentioned earlier, regular sleep helps build your immune system. It can prevent diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
It can also keep you trim and stop you getting overweight. Healthy sleep also boosts your mental wellbeing. Disorders such as anxiety and depression are drastically reduced.
A good nights sleep also improves your sex drive. Men and women who don’t get a good nights sleep have lower libidos. Men who suffer sleep apnoea also have lower testosterone which can lower the desire for sex. For women, healthy sleep can increase fertility and lower the difficulty for trying to conceive.
How can you catch up on a loss of sleep?
If you’re not getting enough sleep, there’s only one way really to help – commit to getting more sleep! A single early night won’t suddenly fix everything. But if you’ve had months of restricted sleep you will have built up a lot of sleep ‘debt’ which your body needs to repay. Recovery can take several weeks but it is all worth it for your mental and physical health.
Try to add an extra hour or two of sleep a night – even weekends. The way to do this is to go to bed when you feel tired, not when you ‘usually go to bed’. On the weekend allow your body to wake up naturally in the morning without the use of an alarm clock. Let your body decide when it’s ready to wake up.
At first, you will probably sleep for upwards of 10 hours a night – trust me, that’s normal but it’s also your body recharging. They will gradually decrease back to a normal level.
Don’t rely on energy drinks and caffeine to help wake you up in the morning, they’re a short-term buzz that tends to make you more tired while scrambling your body clock making it hard to sleep afterwards. It can disrupt your sleep pattern in the long term if this continues.
Still suffering from sleep deprivation? Why not download our app?
If you need help getting to sleep, you could always try the Sleepiest app. Our sleep stories and soundscapes are the perfect way to help you drift off and ease yourself into a comfortable sleep. We promise it will help you on your quest to eliminate sleep deprivation once and for all.