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How Sleep Deprivation Impacts the Body

How Sleep Deprivation Impacts the Body

Whether it’s due to stress, insomnia or carrying work home, sleep deprivation has become a common aspect of modern-day life. But did you know that missing out on the recommended 7-9 hours of shut-eye at night can have profound effects on your body?

You might not be getting enough sleep if you:

  • Have difficulty solving problems and making decisions
  • Make mistakes and take longer than you usually would to complete tasks
  • Have difficulty remembering or learning things
  • Feel irritable or having trouble controlling your emotions
  • Feel extremely sleepy during daily activities, such as watching TV or sitting in traffic

The long-term effects of having too little sleep are real. It will do more than make you feel grumpy and tired. Over time, sleep deprivation will put your physical health at risk and drain your mental abilities. Scientists have linked poor sleep with a broad array of health problems, but read on for areas that take a major hit when you’ve worked (or binge watched YouTube videos) through the night.

Your Appetite

Sleep deprivation increases your appetite, which leads to a higher risk of being overweight and obese. This is because sleep affects two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which control feelings of hunger and fullness.

Leptin tells your brain that you’re full. With inadequate sleep, your brain reduces levels of leptin and raises ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite. The hormone imbalance explains why people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to overeat later in the night or enjoy nighttime snacking.

A recent report on sleep deprivation showed that people who sleep an average of six hours or less consume an additional 300 calories per day. Operating on about four hours of sleep a night, therefore, makes you feel less full and hungrier. The increases appetite levels, and coupled with the fatigue of insufficient sleep, can hurt your willpower leading to poor food choices.

Your Digestive System

Regular poor sleep has also been shown to wreak havoc on your digestive system. After a sleepless night, the chances are high that you’ll wake up bloated and uncomfortable. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to bloating and constipation.

Since the lack of enough sleep will mess up your cortisol secretion, your entire body, as well as your digestive system, will be stressed. And this is a symptom that can last for hours. For instance, the heightened cortisol secretion may take place as late as the next evening, which means you can end up being bloated an entire day. The resulting discomfort may lead to unhealthy food choices or a skipped workout.

Your Focus and Memory

It goes without saying that shorting yourself on shut-eye will leave you feeling tired and less focused. But there’s more going on when you don’t catch enough zzz’s. A recent study concluded that not getting enough sleep actually disrupts your brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other. As a result, you’re likely to experience temporary mental lapses that can affect your perception and memory. The study showed that lack of enough sleep seemed to interfere with how neurons encode information, as well as translate visual input into conscious thought. That explains why a sleep deprived individual may have trouble focusing, processing new memories and receiving new information.

According to another study from the Journal of Neuroscience, lack of sleep leads to self-eating of the brain cells in mice. The physiology and anatomy of mice don’t perfectly correlate with humans, but the study sheds light on the role of sleep loss and the impacts on brain cells.

Your Heart Health

When it comes to cardiovascular health, people often overlook the importance of sleep. Sleep deprivation, regardless of weight, age, or smoking habits, raises the risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. As such, getting sufficient sleep is crucial if you want to have a healthy heart.

It’s not certain why less sleep has adverse effects on heart health, but research shows that sleep deprivation disrupts underlying biological processes and health conditions such as blood pressure, metabolism and inflammation. Several studies suggest that people who get less than six hours of sleep every night are twice as likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack.

Consider studies on sleep apnea (a condition in which breathing repeatedly starts and stops throughout the night causing one to wake frequently). Research shows that patients with sleep apnea often have compromised heart health. This is because our bodies need deep sleep to achieve proper rest and a healthy heart.

The Importance of Heart Health

Getting enough sleep is vital for your overall wellbeing. In fact, it may be as crucial as working out and eating healthy.

Whenever you skip a good night’s sleep for a day or two, for example, your body starts to crash by day three, and it becomes much more difficult to resist that chocolate-chip covered donut at the cafeteria. Before you know it, you’re making unhealthy food choices, and suddenly you’re too tired to work out. Interfering with your sleep, therefore, has a ripple effect on your food choices and your workouts.

On the flipside, if you start working out and eat healthier, you end up tired and consequently, you’re able to get some good quality deep sleep at night. In the long run, you’ll feel healthier, stronger and find more balance.

Considering both situations, it’s obvious how sleep stands out as a regulating factor. It can start the downward spiral to poor health, but it’s also the easiest place to start when you’re working toward getting healthier.

Ultimately, you can’t afford to ignore the value of sleep in protecting your mental and physical health, personal safety, daytime performance, emotional wellbeing and quality of life.