Science explains what happens to your body when you’re short on snooze
Yawning, crankiness and long nods… It’s tough to get through the day when you’re short on sleep. A sleep deficit affects virtually every system in your body, from head to toe, influencing not only your physical health but emotional health as well.
The full impact of a rough night isn’t always evident, but it’s there and can be serious, especially for your long term health. If you need a reminder about the importance of quality sleep, the fallout when snooze is in short supply isn’t pretty.
The grisly facts about all the ways lack of sleep affects your body…
1. Lack of sleep & brain drain. Being exhausted interrupts those otherwise efficient pathways between nerve cells that communicate information. You may not process information as quickly and coordination skills may suffer, boosting chances of having an accident.
Because all paths lead back to the brain when it comes to how well we function, it’s not surprising that a sleep deficit can lead to serious long and short-term health issues. Researchers have found a 33% increase in the risk of dementia – plus escalated depression, irritability, anxiety, forgetfulness and fuzzy thinking. Not getting enough rest on a regular basis can age your brain by an estimated 3-5 years.
Also of note is the tie between insomnia and mood. A 2007 study of 10,000 people with insomnia were 5 times as likely to experience depression.
2 Lack of sleep & your skin. Sometimes, with just a quick glance, you can tell that someone has had a rough night. It shows on their face – sallow skin, puffy eyes and dark circles. You can blame the stress hormone cortisol – it’s called beauty sleep for a very real reason. When you don’t sleep enough, cortisol levels increase and break down collagen, an important component in skin that keeps it elastic and smooth.
3. Lack of sleep & your heart. Sleep deprivation means a 48% increase for risk of developing heart disease, a potentially deadly condition. When you skimp on sleep, you miss out on valuable time that the body spends helping heart vessels to heal and rebuild. It also impacts our ability to maintain healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels. An analysis published in the European Journal of Preventive Oncology connected insomnia to an alarming elevated risk of heart attack and stroke.
4. Lack of sleep & sex. There’s more bad news about how a lack of sleep wreaks havoc on your body. Expect your sex life to suffer, too. Men especially experience lower libido levels because of lower testosterone, which, you guessed it, are tied to poor sleep quality.
Evidence published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (2002) stated that men who suffer from sleep apnea are significantly affected. The study showed that nearly half of the men with severe apnea secreted abnormally low levels of testosterone at night.
For both men and women who are tired, the last thing on their minds would be getting busy between the sheets. Let’s face it, the best intimacy happens when both partners are well rested and raring to go.
5. Lack of sleep & your respiratory health. Your ability to breathe freely and easily may suffer when your sleep is incomplete. In the past decade, researchers have seen an increased risk of new and advanced respiratory diseases. The question often asked is: what causes it? Does insomnia cause breathing problems or do breathing problems cause insomnia? It turns out that both scenarios are possible.
Obstructive sleep apnea disrupts deep sleep. Being woken frequently throughout the night will leave you vulnerable for respiratory infections like flu and common colds, which can both lead to life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia. Being sleepless can also make any existing breathing conditions, such as asthma, worse.
6. Lack of sleep & your immune system. Your immune system also takes a beating, leaving it less able to fight off infection. Sleep deprivation means you’re three times more likely to get a cold. Your natural killer cells become less active, which means they’re not doing their job to protect you. While you’re snoozing, your immune system produces infection fighters like cytokines, which clobber bacteria and viruses that may invade the body. They also help you sleep and replenish your immune system with more energy to stave off illness. If you’re already sick, sleeplessness may mean it will take you longer to recover and get back to feeling well again.
7. Lack of sleep & the ongoing weight debate. If you’ve struggled to maintain a healthy weight, counting calories or carbs aren’t nearly as strong a strategy as getting a good night’s sleep. Poor bedtime habits means lower levels of leptin (the hormone that’s instrumental in appetite control) and higher levels of ghrelin (the hormone that tells you to head to the fridge again). You’ll have a 50% higher risk of being obese if you sleep less than five hours a night. Yikes.
Without enough sleep, your body is prompted to release higher amounts of insulin after you eat. Insulin not only controls your blood sugar, but how and when fat is stored. Higher insulin levels send a signal to your body to hang on to fat.
Whether you’re hitting the gym or doing yoga at home, exercise also plays a key role in weight management. But when you’re tired, the motivation to get moving nosedives. What’s more, a no-pain, no-gain strategy won’t work either. Our ability to withstand pain plummets with sleep deprivation. So those tough yoga poses and muscle burn at the end of your set of weight repetitions feel even more uncomfortable.
Lack of sleep & your ability to balance properly. Sleeplessness really does affect us from head to toe – literally. If you’re fatigued, you’ll be more unsteady on your feet. Balance and coordination suffer, making you more apt to have an accident or fall.
Doctors describe insomnia as the inability to sleep without interruption. Acute or short term insomnia can be as short as one night of sleeplessness. It might be caused by a stressful situation like a job loss, death or hormone fluctuations. Chronic insomnia can last for years and can put you at risk for serious health issues. If your inability to sleep lasts longer than 3 weeks, it’s time to involve a certified sleep doctor.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- Sleep aids for a better night’s sleep
- 12 essential life hacks to battle stress & safeguard your sleep
- The art of the power nap – and how it can be your super power