No one loves to get a bad night’s sleep. It makes the next day (and maybe the next few days) that much harder. Some people feel exhausted, others find it hard not to snap at people all day, and even others just feel like the whole world is slightly off-kilter.
However, not getting enough sleep doesn’t just make you feel off, it also negatively affects the way your body functions. When you don’t get the amount of sleep you need, it changes your body’s functioning from your brain to your heart and more. The more sleep deprived you are, the more pronounced these effects will be, and the more likely you’ll be to suffer long-term effects.
This is Your Brain on Sleep Deprivation
Your brain does NOT like it when you don’t get enough sleep. It uses the time that you spend sleeping to process events and store data for later retrieval. When you don’t get enough sleep, it doesn’t have time to do those things well. This means that sleep deprivation ends up negatively affecting both your long- and short-term memory.
Sleep also seems to help us with higher level thinking skills, like being creative, solving problems, and being able to focus or concentrate. When we don’t get enough rest, our scores on all of those things go down significantly.
Sleep deprivation also makes us more accident-prone, especially when we’re driving. In fact, going without sleep for even 18 hours makes us drive as if we were drunk. Losing a couple of hours of sleep every night for a week will have a similar effect. We may think that we are perfectly competent behind the wheel when we’re sleepy, but we’re not.
Our brains don’t handle adversity or difficulty well when they are tired. We are more prone to mood swings, and even to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. Impulsive behavior goes up when we’re tired, so people may be more likely to commit suicide when they are sleep deprived.
Sleep Deprivation and Your Heart
The heart also doesn’t like it when we don’t get enough sleep. In fact, people who don’t sleep enough have significantly higher chances of suffering from high blood pressure.
As if that weren’t enough, sleep deprivation is also linked to an increased risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke. It seems that the body eliminates inflammatory chemicals while you’re resting. When it doesn’t get a chance to do this thoroughly, these are left in your body unchecked. Inflammation is tied to both heart attacks and strokes, so these become more likely in people who aren’t getting enough rest. Lack of sleep itself might even raise inflammation levels more, actively increasing your chances of suffering one of these events.
Blood Sugar and Weight
Sleep deprivation is also tied to increased chances of being overweight and obese, and of struggling with Type II Diabetes. When you don’t sleep enough, your body releases more insulin after you eat. This hormone controls your blood sugar levels. The more of it you release, the more likely your body is to store fat and learn to resist it, which leads to Type II Diabetes.
Sleep also influences how much leptin and ghrelin your body produces. These hormones regulate feelings of hunger and satiety. When you don’t get enough rest, they become imbalanced. Tired people end up eating more because the hormones tell them that they’re still hungry. Over time, this can lead to significant weight gain.
Your Immune System
The immune system uses the time that you’re asleep to produce several different disease-fighters for your body. One of the most important of these is cytokines. These actively help your body fight off illness. When you don’t get enough sleep, the body doesn’t have time to build up enough of these to effectively keep you healthy.
Balance and Coordination
People who don’t sleep well struggle more with balance and coordination than their well-rested peers. This may be because these are complex brain process and, as we discussed above, the brain doesn’t perform those very well when it’s tired. It may also be because tired muscles, tendons, ligaments, and more don’t get a good chance to recover when you don’t sleep enough. When they aren’t firing well, you may become more clumsy.
Sex Drive and Development
Testosterone is essential for a good sex drive in both men and women. However, it is only produced when you are asleep for at least three hours. This means that people who don’t get enough sleep, or those who wake frequently during the night, will have lower hormone levels and, therefore, lower sex drives.
Sleep also triggers high levels of production of human growth hormone in children and adolescents. It affects how fast they can build muscle mass and how effectively their tissues repair themselves. Kids who aren’t getting enough sleep may not produce enough of this to grow well.
Sleep deprivation is a bigger problem than we tend to think that it is. After all, many of us forego sleep in favor of all sorts of other things, all the time. We might think that it’s annoying, but we don’t worry too much about it. However, sleep deprivation is changing the ways our bodies work. If we want to stay healthy and live as long as we can, getting more sleep should become a priority.