10 Dangerous Side Effects of Not Getting Enough Sleep

We all know that we SHOULD be getting enough sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should be getting an average of between 7 to… Tayana - October 2, 2017

We all know that we SHOULD be getting enough sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should be getting an average of between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night in order to maintain good health and well-being. This recommended amount varies slightly between children and teenagers, who require more sleep, and older people, who generally require less sleep.

This doesn’t mean that if you do have a few late nights here and there you are going to damage your health permanently, but if a lack of sleep becomes a feature night after night, then it can become a real problem.

Not getting enough sleep not only affects you in the short term, but is a risk factor for longer-term and enduring health problems.

There may be many reasons which affect your ability to sleep the recommended amount including lifestyle, work life, physical and mental health, but it is important to eliminate as many factors as possible which are interfering with your ability to get a good night’s rest.

These are some of the short and long-term impacts that sleep deprivation can have.

1. Affects Your Memory and Brain

Getting enough sleep is essential for healthy cognitive function. It plays an important role in thinking, problem-solving, learning and memory. If you haven’t had enough sleep, your concentration the following day is likely to be poor and you may have difficulty focusing on the task at hand. This can be masked temporarily by using stimulants like coffee to trick our brain, but is likely to lead to a bigger crash later in the day when the caffeine wears off.

This reduction in cognitive function can affect your ability to perform tasks at work, concentrate in meetings, and remember important events. The impact of sleep deprivation on memory can be explained by its effect on the hippocampus – the region of the brain critical for storing new memories. Even one bad night’s sleep can impair the brain’s ability to retain information the following day.

Worryingly it can also impair your ability to drive safely, as it reduces your level of alertness and responsiveness.

Sleep deprivation can affect your learning capacity and ability for the brain to retain important information, this may lead to you becoming more forgetful. Various studies have shown the direct impact that sleep deprivation has on cognitive performance. Recently an Italian study concluded that sleep deprivation can actually cause brain cells to eat parts of the brain’s synapses.

Another study showed that people who had not had enough sleep reacted with stress and anger when trying to perform a simple cognitive task. This reaction was shown to be due to the Amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for controlling emotion, being 60% more active when a person has had a lack of sleep. This makes the individual more reactive to negative stimuli when overtired than they would be normally – it is more than just being grumpy!

To ensure optimum functioning of your brain, make sure that you get enough quality sleep. This allows the brain to recover and be ready for the following day.

2. Harms Your Heart

Getting the correct amount of sleep is very important when it comes to looking after your heart. Sleep plays a vital role in healing and repairing your blood vessels and heart.

Many studies have made a clear link between cardiovascular disease, and those who consistently get below 6 hours of sleep a night – regardless of other lifestyle-related considerations including age, diet and smoking.

Proper rest and sleep are essential for your heart health. Sleep deprivation puts you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease—regardless of age, weight, smoking and exercise habits.

One study published in 2000 saw a direct link between sleep deprivation and increased resting blood pressure. A later study published in Progressive Cardiovascular Disease suggested that short-term sleep deprivation negatively affects blood pressure, inflammation, and hormones, all contributing to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Another study published in the European Heart Journal, showed that people who sleep less than 6 hours on average, have a greater risk of developing coronary heart disease, and stroke as compared to those sleeping 7 to 8 hours per night.

Some research even suggests that you are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke if you sleep on average less than 6 hours a night, compared to those who sleep between 6 and 8 hours a night. Getting too much sleep (9 hours +) consistently, can also be detrimental, and has also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

3. Weakens Your Immunity

If you notice that you are continually getting ill – with colds, flus and viruses – it could be because you’re not getting enough sleep.

Sleep deprivation can affect your immune system – your body’s protective system – from fighting off infections like the common cold, the flu and other ailments.

When the immune system is weakened, your body loses its ability to fight off viruses, and therefore you are likely to get sick more often.

Getting enough sleep is essential to maintain the healthy running of the body’s immune system. When you sleep, proteins are released called cytokines, along with other infection-fighting antibodies, which protect your body against infection and inflammation.

When you don’t get enough sleep, the body produces less cytokines, which impacts your body’s ability to fight off infection in the same way.

One study carried out by the University of Washington Health Sciences, proved that by carrying out research on pairs of twins and showing that the twin that consistently got less than 6 hours sleep a night had a suppressed immune system, than the twin who got between 6 and 8 hours sleep a night.

Sleeping also helps to fight fever once you are sick. This is why when you come down with a severe cold or flu, your body will want to sleep for long periods. It is during your sleeping time that the fever rises and your body is able to tackle it more effectively. This is why when you are sick, and you don’t give your body a chance to rest, it is likely you will stay sick for longer.

4. Causes Depression

Sleep deprivation can be both a cause and an effect of depression, which makes it especially difficult to tackle.

Many studies have linked sleep deprivation to an increased risk of developing depressive and anxiety disorders. This is because it leads to significant changes in the brain’s neurotransmitter functioning, affecting our general outlook on the world, ability to think rationally, and ability to regulate emotions.

It is thought that those who suffer with insomnia are more than 10 times more likely to suffer from depression than the general population, and up to 17 times more likely to suffer with an anxiety disorder. Those with sleep conditions such as sleep apnea, where you temporarily stop breathing whilst sleeping, were five times more likely to suffer from depression than the general population. Researchers believe this is because when sleep is disrupted over and over, it can alter brain activity and neurochemicals that affect a person’s mood and thinking.

However, sleep deprivation is often also a symptom of depression. Feelings of hopelessness and self-hatred, and anxiety often cause a disturbed sleep pattern, which can therefore just increase these feelings further. A person who is suffering from depression may find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep or may also sleep too much. Abnormal sleeping patterns are often one of the first symptoms of depression, and exacerbate the problem further.

However, the relationship between sleeping and mental health is complex, as various studies in recent years have shown the possibility of using controlled sleep deprivation as a temporary treatment to ease the symptoms of mild to o moderate depression. Although researchers who carried out the study stressed that it was only a temporary treatment for depression.

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression and have trouble sleeping, you should consult your doctor.

5. Makes You Gain Weight

Ever wonder why you can’t lose weight? Even when you’re following a strict diet and exercise routine? It may be the amount of sleep you’re getting…

Regularly getting less sleep than you need increases the production of the hormone, ghrelin– the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger. Ghrelin is a hormone secreted by the digestive system when there is little food in the stomach. It tells the brain to make the person hungry.

It also reduces the production of leptin which suppresses appetite. Leptin is secreted by fat cells and tells the brain that the amount of fat being stored is sufficient or has increased. This is part of the body’s homeostasis mechanism.

Being sleep-deprived can affect this mechanism, and therefore the ability to control your appetite and energy metabolism. As a result of this, over time, this contributes to significant weight gain.

Studies have linked short sleep duration to a reduced level of leptin and therefore an increased body mass index.

Maintaining a regular sleep routine of between 6 and 8 hours will not only help your body regulate its appetite, but will stabilize your metabolism to be able to burn off more calories during exercise.

On a mental level, not getting enough sleep can leave you feeling unmotivated, and with no energy to tackle your run or gym session the following morning.

Sleep deprivation can also cause the individual to lose weight. Chronic insomnia has been found to affect the level of ghrelin, but not leptin, meaning that insomniacs often find themselves losing unhealthy amounts of weight.

6. Raises the Risk of Diabetes

Long-term sleep deprivation can not only impact your health in the short term but can put you at much higher risk of long-term chronic diseases such as diabetes.

According to a study carried out in 2005 published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, sleeping too much (6 hours or less), or too much (9 hours or more) is associated with increased risk of diabetes.

This is because sleep deprivation alters the sympathetic nervous system and affects hormonal balances, all of which affects glucose regulation.

Prolonged sleep deprivation therefore eventually causes the insulin-producing cells to stop working properly, and this, therefore, elevates the glucose levels, increasing your risk of diabetes.

As we know, not getting enough sleep increases your chance of being overweight considerably. Being overweight is the leading cause for the development of diabetes type 2 in adults. Excess fat makes it harder for cells to properly use insulin, a hormone that helps keep glucose levels normal.

And it doesn’t take much to disrupt this process – researchers estimate that the sympathetic nervous system can be altered temporarily after as few as two nights of poor sleep.

If needing to go to the toilet during the middle of the night is one of the reasons for not getting enough sleep, this may be a sign of diabetes, as your body is trying to process more glucose than it can handle. Frequent urination is one of the first signs of developing diabetes. If you have concerns, you should consult a doctor.

7.Damages Skin

We’ve all heard of the saying ‘needing your beauty sleep’, and so it won’t come as a surprise to learn that sleep deprivation can cause both short and long-term damage to the skin and complexion.

Most of us will recognize the familiar dark circles, or ‘bags’ under our eyes that appear after just one night of poor sleep. This is caused by our blood vessels dilating. Our eyes also become puffy, and our skin takes on a sallow appearance. If this continues over a period of more than a few weeks, the effects could become permanent.

Sleep deprivation has a direct impact on the skin’s elasticity. An improper sleep pattern leads to excessive stress, which causes the body to produce more of the hormone cortisol. This hormone breaks down the protein in the skin that keeps it elastic and smooth. This means that over time as the skin loses its elasticity, wrinkles and fine lines will appear, and dark eye circles will become more prominent and longer lasting.

Not getting enough sleep negatively affects the moisture levels in your skin, and lowers your pH level. This means that skin is more likely to become dry, irritated and more prone to breakouts. This is also why it is recommended to put apply moisturizer before you go to sleep, to lock in the moisture.

Studies have shown that chronically poor sleep is associated with increased signs of intrinsic aging and ability to recover after sun exposure.

Prolonged lack of sleep can lead to diminished skin barrier function, which leaves you at greater risk of skin cancer.

8. Leads to Early Death

It may sound dramatic, but numerous studies have linked sleep deprivation to an increased risk of early death. This doesn’t mean that an occasional late night is going to send you to an early grave, but continued lack of sleep or poor sleep over a period of years, could increase your risk of many serious, chronic health problems.

A decent night’s sleep is fundamental to our body’s ability to function. It is during our sleeping hours that our body repairs and renews cells and tissues. It also heals and repairs blood vessels, and creates new pathways in the brain essential for learning and memory.

Researchers analyzed data collected over 16 studies, comprising 1.3 million people in the US, UK and Asia over 25 years found that those who slept an average of less than 6 hours per night were 12% more likely to die early, than those who sleep between 6-8 hours per night. It also showed that lack of sleep was associated with ailments including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Evidence also showed that people who slept consistently more than 9 hours per night were also at an increased risk of early death, but this was attributed to other health-related causes.

However, not getting enough sleep could also be an indicator of other health problems, and therefore an increased risk of early death. Those in chronic pain or with mental health issues such as depression are less likely to be able to get a consistent good quality of sleep, which may increase their risk of other health problems. Similarly, if you work shifts, or are under financial pressure to work a high number of hours, this may increase your stress and therefore your ability to sleep.

9. Leads to Fatigue-Related Accidents

Lack of sleep severely impairs your brain’s ability to retain information, decreases reaction times, as well as impairs coordination and judgment.

This makes sleep deprivation not only dangerous for your long-term health, but makes it also a concern for your short-term safety as you go about your day.

One of the leading causes of serious car accidents is driving whilst fatigued. One in five of all serious vehicle injuries is related to mistakes made by a driver who is suffering from sleep deprivation.

One study even showed that moderate sleep deprivation induces impairments in cognitive function equivalent to being under the influence of alcohol. It is recommended that if you are driving whilst fatigued, you pull over a take a short 15-20 minute power nap to alleviate the drowsiness.

This effect of sleep deprivation is also a danger in working environments especially when operating machinery, or working in environments where there are hazards, and a high level of awareness is needed.

Many high-profile disasters are thought to have been caused, at least in part, by sleep deprivation. For example, the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986, and Three Mile Island in 1979, were both thought to have been caused in part by workers being sleep deprived, and therefore missing important information. It is also thought that medical errors in hospitals are often caused by medical professionals being sleep deprived. It is estimated that 50,000-100,000 deaths a year in the US are caused by preventable medical errors, many caused by doctors and nurses working shifts of up to 24 hours without getting an adequate amount of sleep.

10. Kills Your Sex Drive

It stands to reason that when your body is exhausted, you are unlikely to be motivated toward sex. As well as a loss of physical energy, a lack of sleep also increases stress and tension, both of which negatively affect sex drive.

A 2008 poll from the National Sleep Foundation found that 20 percent of respondents have lost interest in sex because they are too tired.

Because sleep deprivation impairs your emotional response, it may also cause you to become irritable easier and therefore affect your relationship, making it less likely that you will want to engage in sexual activity with your partner.

Over time, sleep deprivation is likely to lead to a general loss of interest in sex. Sleep deprivation once again goes hand in hand with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, of which loss of libido is one of the symptoms. These factors affect both men and women equally.

Poor sleep patterns have been found to affect the male production of testosterone, the hormone responsible for sex drive. Scientists from the University of Chicago found men who get less than five hours of sleep a night for a week or longer suffer have far less levels of testosterone than those who get a good night’s rest.

Studies have also shown that men that suffer from sleep apnea, a sleeping disorder which disrupts sleep, also tend to have lower testosterone levels and as a result, often have lower libidos.

Having low levels of testosterone can also lead to other health problems such as an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.