The National Institute of health recommends that we get 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night. But lets be honest, we are all guilty of neglecting our sleep at one point in our lives — whether it is to finish a project at work, to nurse a baby, to party until dawn, or even just to watch Game of Thrones. While a late night here and there may not seem like a big deal, the impact of long term sleep deprivation can lead to a multitude of unfortunate effects whilst sending our hormones haywire.
1. You eat more of the wrong things and gain weight
The body thinks it’s hungry and it needs more calories; and it stops burning calories and stores fat because it thinks there’s a shortage. In other words your metabolism slows down.
When your body is not getting the energy it needs from sleep it will look for all kinds of things to help you feel more awake to compensate; usually this will be in the form of energy dense, high calorie sugary and salty carbohydrates.
Sleep deprivation also increases the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin, so the body thinks it’s hungry and it needs more calories; and it stops burning calories and stores fat because it thinks there’s a shortage. In other words your metabolism slows down. And what’s more… even after eating you don’t feel satisfied due to decreased levels of the satiety hormone leptin, which signals fullness.
2. Your memory becomes impaired
Running low on sleep affects your brain’s ability to learn and retain information.
Memories are formed in 3 steps
- Acquisition: acquiring new information
- Consolidation: process of storing the memory in your brain
- Recall: the ability to recall the memory at a later date
Two of these three functions take place while we are awake, but consolidation of the memory is believed to occur while we sleep.
3. Your decision making skills deteriorate
Sleep deprivation can affect speed and higher-level cognitive processing. In other words judgemental skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and time management as well as your attention span are compromised and you are unable to react quickly.
4. Your immune system weakens
Research shows that people who are sleep deprived are more likely to catch a cold and take longer to fight it off. The immune system has time to build up its ranks and produce its’ protective compounds (like cytokines)while you’re sleeping; hence a few nights of poor sleep reduces your body’s defenses against infections.
When a group of 153 people were exposed to a common cold, those who had gotten less than 7 hours of sleep in the two weeks prior were almost 3 times more likely to get sick than those who had 8 or more hours of sleep.
5. It increases your blood pressure and risk of a heart attack
Decreased sleep leads to increased blood pressure. This can be explained by the body’s increased production of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone), due to the elevated stress levels caused by lack of sleep. Over time uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
6.Your anxiety levels increase
The elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to increased feelings of nervousness and anxiety. What’s worse is that the cortisol then prevents you from being able to fall asleep later.
7. You get angry, sad or frustrated for no reason
Without sleep, we revert back to a more primal version of ourselves, meaning we can’t appropriately cope with emotions or respond maturely to situations.
Studies show that sleep deprivation disrupts the connection between the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions and the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotional response. So your reaction to things that normally would not get you worked up will be blown up.
8. It increases your blood sugar levels and risk of diabetes
When you don’t sleep, your insulin levels are thrown off and your body becomes less effective at bringing your blood sugar down after you eat. This along with the increased levels of cortisol lead to increased blood sugar levels and thus an increased risk for type 2 diabetes
9. Your vision becomes impaired
When fatigued, you’re not able to control the muscles of the eyes as well. This can lead to tunnel vision, double vision, difficulty reading up close and visual errors.
10. You Age Faster
Have you ever experienced that puffiness and darkness under your eyes and sagginess in your cheeks after a few nights of inadequate sleep…? While you sleep, your skin works to repair any damaged cells. So not getting enough sleep, to produce new, fresh cells and fix yesterday’s damage, means your skin wont be as thick and fresh the next day; and over time this will cause wrinkles to appear.
Your skin will also be deprived of oxygen as the lack of sleep will put your body into fight or flight mode, where it directs oxygen to vital organs, rather than the skin. This hinders the production of collagen the protein that provides our skin with firmness and elasticity.
Meanwhile the increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol result in the breakdown of any existing collagen.
11. Your exercise routine becomes less effective
Lack of sleep means lack of energy, which probably means lack of exercise time; or if you do make it to the gym you will struggle a lot more than normal.
If you are not getting adequate sleep, you muscles will not have a chance to grow and strengthen to their full potential. This is because muscle growth and building occurs while you are sleeping. Moreover a lack of sleep causes hormonal changes that make it tougher for your body to build muscle and recover after a workout.