If you’ve experienced a night tossing and turning in bed, you already know how you’ll feel the next day – tired, cranky, and out of sorts. Just as it needs air and food, your body needs sleep to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new connections and helps memory retention.
Turns out, not sleeping enough and not sleeping well have quite a price to pay. According to studies, chronic sleep deprivation significantly affects your health, performance, and safety. Without enough sleep, your brain and body systems won’t function normally and can also dramatically lower your quality of life. In fact, a review of 16 studies found that sleeping for less than 6 to 8 hours a night increases the risk of early deâth by about 12%.
Below is a round-up of the top 8 effects of long-term sleep deprivation:
1. Weight Gain and Obesity
Along with eating too much and not exercising, sleep deprivation is another risk factor for becoming overweight and obesity. Sleep affects the levels of two hormones, leptin, and ghrelin, which control feelings of hunger and fullness.
Leptin tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. Without enough sleep, your brain reduces leptin and raises ghrelin, which is an appetite stimulant. The flux of these hormones could explain nighttime snacking or why someone may overeat later in the night.
A lack of sleep can also contribute to weight gain by making you feel too tired to exercise. Sleep deprivation also prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat. Insulin controls your blood sugar level. Higher insulin levels promote fat storage and increase your risk for type 2 diabetes.
2. Heart Attack & Stroke
Sleep affects processes that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, including your blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation levels. It also plays a vital role in your body’s ability to heal and repair the blood vessels and heart.
People who don’t sleep enough are more likely to get cardiovascular disease. One study even linked insomnia to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
3. Immune System Deficiency
While you sleep, your immune system produces protective, infection-fighting substances like cytokines. It uses these substances to combat foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Cytokines also help you sleep, giving your immune system more energy to defend your body against illness.
Sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from building up its forces. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body may not be able to fend off invaders. It may also take you longer to recover from illness.
4. Respiratory Diseases
The relationship between sleep and the respiratory system goes both ways. A nighttime breathing disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can interrupt your sleep and lower the quality of your sleep. As you wake up throughout the night, this can cause sleep deprivation, which leaves you more vulnerable to respiratory infections like the common cold and flu. Sleep deprivation can also make existing respiratory diseases worse, such as chronic lung illness.
5. Faulty Brain Function
Your central nervous system is the information highway of your body. Sleep is necessary to keep it functioning properly, but chronic insomnia can disrupt how your body usually sends information. During sleep, pathways form between nerve cells (neurons) in your brain that help you remember new information you’ve learned.
Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties as well. You may also find it more difficult to concentrate or learn new things. The signals your body sends may also come at a delay, decreasing your coordination skills and increasing your risks for accidents. It can also compromise decision-making processes and creativity.
6. Psychiatric Disorders
If sleep deprivation continues long enough, you could start having hallucinations – seeing or hearing things that aren’t there. A lack of sleep can also trigger mania in people who have manic depression. Other psychological risks include impulsive behavior, depression, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts.
7. Memory Loss
The researchers found that during sleep important brain waves are produced which play a vital role in storing memories. The brain waves transfer memories from a part of the brain called the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain where long-term memories are stored. Sleep deprivation causes memories to stay stuck in the hippocampus and not reach the prefrontal cortex. This results in forgetfulness and difficulty remembering names.
8. Decreased Fertility
In both men and women, the same part of the brain that regulates sleep-wake hormones (such as melatonin and cortisol) also triggers a daily release of reproductive hormones. The hormones that trigger ovulation in women and the sperm-maturation process in men may be tied into the body’s sleep-wake patterns.
For example, if you’re a woman, long-term lack of sleep may directly affect the release of luteinizing hormone, or LH – the hormone that triggers ovulation as part of regulating your menstrual cycle. The resulting menstrual irregularity may mean it takes longer for you to conceive.