Sleep Deprivation Kills: What Really Happens to Your Body When You’re Skimping on Sleep

We spend a third of our lives sleeping. Or at least we’re supposed to do so. Today’s hectic lifestyle makes it difficult to get enough sleep so we can have the energy needed to function optimally.

A recent poll found that 43% of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on weeknights. More than half (61%) say that they experience a sleep problem every night or almost every night (i.e., snoring, waking in the night, waking up too early, or feeling un-refreshed when they get up in the morning.)

Daily worries, stress, chronic pain, and workload are all common causes of a bad night’s sleep. The use of electronic devices before bedtime only makes things worse. More than 71 percent of American people aged 18 or older have a smartphone by their beds. The blue light emitted by your tablet, mobile phone, and TV affects melatonin production, leading to poor sleep.

Believe it or not, sleep deprivation kills. It messes up your brain, weakens your immune system, hurts your productivity, and causes weight gain. Let’s see what happens to your body when you’re not catching enough Zzz’s:

Accelerated Aging

Skimping on sleep not only makes you look tired but also accelerates aging. According to a 2013 study, sleep deprivation affects skin’s elasticity and promotes the formation of dark spots and fine lines. Researchers have also found that sleep-deprived subjects needed more time to recover from stress and had a higher body mass index (BMI).

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A poor night’s sleep can speed up the aging process and add inches to your waistline, affecting your confidence and self-esteem. Furthermore, your skin will take longer to recover from stress and environmental damage.

Inflammation, dark circles under the eyes, hyperpigmentation, and premature aging are all common side effects of sleep deprivation. If you eczema, psoriasis, and other skin disorders, your symptoms may worsen.

Impaired Brain Function

Sleep loss has a devastating impact on your brain. To put it simply, it dumbs you down. According to science, inadequate rest impairs cognitive performance, memory, and cognition, affecting your productivity and mental function.

Studies have found that attention span may not get back to normal even with three days of recovery sleep. In lab studies, mice experienced brain cell death and lost up to 25 percent of LC neurons after several days of shift worker sleep patterns. Your alertness, mental focus, productivity, and problem-solving skills may suffer too.

Sleep deprivation can also interfere with your ability to read the facial expressions of other people. As a result, you may experience relationship problems, communicate poorly at work, and encounter issues in your social life. Plus, you’ll experience mood swings and find it difficult to cope with stress.

Weight Gain

If you keep gaining weight for no obvious reason, consider changing your sleeping habits. Missing out on sleep affects your weight in several ways.

First of all, it increases the stress hormone cortisol levels. Elevated cortisol promotes muscle loss and fat storage, especially in the abdominal area. The less muscle you have, the lower your metabolic rate. This makes it harder to lose weight and keep it off.

Furthermore, sleep deprivation impairs your body’s ability to produce HGH (human growth hormone) and testosterone. These hormones regulate your metabolism, body composition, mood, sex drive, and physical performance. Men, for instance, experience a decline in testosterone levels as they older. That’s why they tend to gain weight and lose muscle after age 40 or so.

The female body produces testosterone too but in smaller amounts. If its levels drop below normal, you may gain weight and feel fatigued. Mood swings, low libido, lethargy, and lack of motivation are all common complaints among women with testosterone women with testosterone deficiency.

A poor night’s sleep also reduces the levels of leptin and raises ghrelin production. Leptin, the satiety hormone, signals your brain that you’re full. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, stimulates your appetite. When these hormones are out of whack, it’s easy to gain weight despite eating healthy and staying active.

Increased Risk of Stroke and Diabetes

Not getting enough sleep could literally kill you. Evidence shows that people who sleep less than six hours per night are four times more likely to have a stroke, even if they’re otherwise healthy. On top of that, improper rest puts you at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, diabetes, and a host of other problems.

And no, you don’t have to be old and sick to experience these side effects. Sleep deprivation is just as harmful to teens and young people as it is to the elderly. A study conducted on 245 healthy teenagers has found that those getting less shut-eye had higher insulin resistance compared to those with good sleeping habits.

Other studies indicate that teens who don’t get enough rest are more likely to be hyperactive, impulsive, and stressed out. They also score lower on cognitive and intelligence tests than their peers.


What Can You Do about It?

This list could go on and on. Sleep deprivation affects every system in the body, including your brain, heart, liver, and immune function. Sometimes, the damage is irreversible.

If you want to get more shut-eye, change your lifestyle habits. Stay hydrated throughout the day, avoid heavy meals at bedtime, and clean up your diet. Refrain from working out too close to slumber. Schedule your exercise routine at least three hours before sitting the sack.

Forget about sleeping pills as they cause addiction and carry a myriad of side effects. Natural remedies like valerian tea, chamomile tea, hot baths, and essential oils, are safer and more effective in the long run. Caffeine, chocolate, green and black tea, energy drinks, and other stimulants can disrupt your sleep patterns, so it’s better to avoid them after 5 PM.

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