10 things that happen if you don't get enough sleep

Groggy eyes and tiredness are only the beginning of problems that result from lack of sleep.

Are you getting enough sleep?

Be honest. Sleeping in on the weekend doesn’t count, we are talking about a regular sleep schedule aligned with your body’s internal clock.

There is too much to do and so little time, you say.

However, you should set aside 7-9 hours of sleep per day in order to feel well and function properly. Here are the reasons why not getting enough sleep is damaging:

 

1. Hormones off-whack

Your hormones go through a finely tuned cycle every day and are also released even when you sleep. Hormones acting at their target organ are crucial for many functions such as controlling blood glucose, stress responses, reproduction, growth and repair to name a few. Here are some hormones involved:

Adrenaline – Stress causes adrenaline levels to rocket as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response. While adrenaline is great for you to successfully run away from that tiger in the bushes, it raises heart rate, blood pressure, dilates pupils, diverts blood to skeletal muscles, it is not useful when you realize at night that you forgot to write a report for work. It means that you are too alert and on edge to get enough sleep. Also if these chronic stressors came flying at you all day your blood will be teeming with adrenaline – the consequence is no sleep.

Corticosteroids (e.g. cortisol) – These are released in response to stress and cause an elevation in blood glucose making you more wakeful and hungrier. In the long term they also cause central fat deposition in the body, high blood pressure, insulin resistance (risk of diabetes), decreased memory and depressed immune function. Poor sleepers tend to have higher levels of these hormones.

Ghrelin and Leptin – Ghrelin is the ‘hunger hormone’ and leptin the ‘satiety hormone’. Less sleep leads to increased hunger and ghrelin levels which cause obesity. Obese individuals have resistance to insulin and leptin making them at risk of diabetes and hypertension.

Testosterone – Poorer sleep leads to decreased levels of testosterone. This will impact your sex life and your libido will fizzle out.

 

2. Obesity risk

The combination of high cortisol, high ghrelin, high insulin, and low leptin due to a lack of sleep puts you at risk of becoming obese. People who sleep less than 6 hours per night are much likelier to have a higher BMI. People that sleep for 8 hours have a lower BMI. Obesity is dangerous because you can develop heart disease, stroke, cancer, breathing problems and joint problems as well as diabetes and hypertension as listed below.

 

3. Diabetes risk

Lack of sleep leads to impaired glucose control. A sleep restriction study revealed that normal subjects that had their sleeping hours reduced from 8 to 4 processed glucose slowly compared to when they were permitted to sleep for longer. Individuals with obstructive sleep apnea where breathing is poor and leads to frequent nighttime wakings also tend to have dysregulated glucose levels.

 

4.  Cardiovascular Disease and Hypertension risk

If you have existing hypertension a lack of sleep will lead to raised blood pressure the following day. Too little sleep (less than 6 hours) or too much sleep (over 9 hours) increases the risk of coronary heart disease in women. Sleep apnea can lead to surges in blood pressure over time and the condition can also lead to hypertension over time.

 

5. Mood disorders risk

Having a poor night’s sleep can make you feel irritated and less hopeful about the coming day. In the long term, you may develop a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety. Studies show that along with a sense of optimism your sociability also fades away making you feel less connected with the world when your sleep is restricted. Thankfully these symptoms disappear when your sleep returns to normal.

 

6. Accident risk

It is unsurprising that sleep can lead to increased accidents. 80, 000 drivers are estimated to fall asleep per day behind the wheel. Plus, your reaction times are considerably slower when you are exhausted. Do not underestimate the consequences of no sleep. A study found that 21 hours awake had the same effect of a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent, which is the legal limit in the US.

 

7. Learning and memory is poorer

Cortisol shrinks the hippocampus and its connections. This is an area of the brain responsible for learning and making new memories. Your working memory is also affected making it difficult to remember short term information. Your attention is affected and you are more likely to be forgetful.

 

8. Alcohol reliance

This problem is twofold. Those who can’t sleep are likely to self-medicate using alcohol to get to sleep. Secondly, alcohol itself leads to poorer sleep quality and missing out on some particularly restorative stages of sleep. This can cause the individual to enter a potentially dangerous cycle of alcohol consumption.

 

9. Immune function decreases

When you are sick, the body produces substances to fight of infection and some of these cause you to feel sleepy so you have a better chance of recovery. Therefore it is unsurprising that healing is affected when you do not get enough sleep. Not to mention the fact that cortisol dampens the immune system making you more at risk of colds and flu.

 

10. Life expectancy decreases

Sleep is so important that many consecutive days of not sleeping can actually result in death. All of the conditions listed here can combine to reduce life expectancy. Sleeping five hours or less per night increases mortality risk from all causes by over 10 percent. Make sure your doctor knows if you have a sleep disorder or any significant problems with your sleep.

 

Sources

  1. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9230429

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