All of us have spent a sleepless night tossing and turning, growing more and more frustrated – not only that the fact that we can’t fall asleep but also recognizing that in the morning we are going to be extra cranky and worn out.
Most of us recognize that the next day after a sleepless night is going to be an uphill battle, even if we don’t fully understand sleep deprivation effects from a scientific standpoint. All we know for sure is that we are going to need at least a couple of cups of coffee to get us through the first hour at school or work.
After that you have to play it by ear.
If you’d like to learn a little bit more about what not sleeping does to your brain and how sleep deprivation triggers a whole cascade of biochemical reactions throughout the body that can negatively impact your short and long-term health, you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s get right into it.
What is Sleep Deprivation?
To put it simply, sleep deprivation is nothing more than a consistent lack of high-quality sleep or a significantly reduced overall quality of sleep over an extended amount of time.
If you are dealing with sleepless nights every couple of weeks you probably aren’t going to start experiencing severe sleep deprivation signs anytime soon.
If, on the other hand, you are going days and days consecutively without at least seven hours of quality sleep – maybe even for a week or so, and maybe even longer – the odds are pretty good you’re going to start manifesting side effects of long-term sleep deprivation that can throw your entire life into disarray.
Experience these kinds of side effects over an even longer block of time than a week or so and you may be looking at and underlying sleep disorder that has to be diagnosed by medical professionals and treated ASAP.
When you get right down to it, our body needs sleep the same way that it needs air, food, and water. You cannot survive without getting sleep. Your body needs this downtime to rest and recover, to reset and regulate biochemicals, and to cement new connections between neurons that help you learn, develop, and remember.
Without high-quality sleep on a regular basis you can turn into a bit of a zombie – and if you go too long without sleep you can threaten your health and even your life.
Causes of Sleep Deprivation
One of the biggest challenges in appropriately diagnosing sleep deprivation – at least when it comes to the root causes of sleep deprivation – is that there are so many different things that can contribute to this condition, many of which aren’t necessarily medical conditions.
Of course, an actual sleep disorder (including insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome to name a few) can contribute significantly to sleep deprivation.
But so can drinking too much caffeine, dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety, poor sleeping habits, and uncomfortable bed, too hot or too cold of a bedroom when you go to. And that only barely begins to scratch the surface of the root causes you may be contending with.
Physical Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body
1. Short and Long-Term Health Problems
Right out of the gate, some of the more significant effects of insufficient sleep that you’ll notice right away are the physical impacts on your body, your strength, and your overall energy levels.
Sleep deprivation can cause serious health problems on a physiological level, including issues like:
- Heart Disease
- Heart Attack
- Cardiovascular Failure
- Irregular Heartbeat Issues
- High Blood Pressure
All five of these serious health issues manifest themselves physically, represent some of the more serious health consequences of a lack of sleep, and can cripple your long-term health almost straightaway.
2. Fatigue and Coordination Issues
Drowsiness can slow down your reaction time significantly, sometimes by as much as if you were drunk.
Some of history’s biggest accidents – including the nuclear meltdown at 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl – have all been linked to sleep deprivation. You feel fatigued, you feel uncoordinated, and getting anything done becomes truly challenged.
3. Diminished Sex Drive
If you aren’t sleeping well the odds are pretty good that you aren’t sleeping with anybody well, either. Reports show that sleep-deprived men, as well as women, have significantly lower libidos, a lot less interest in sex, and difficulty “getting into the mood” on a consistent basis.
4. Signs of Aging
Believe it or not, one of the most common sleep deprivation affects has to be signs of advanced aging. Sallow skin, puffy eyes, fine lines, and dark bags under your eyes can all be signs and symptoms that you aren’t getting anywhere near as much sleep as you could or should. Your natural production of HGH slows down as well and that means you look and feel a lot older than you probably are.
5. Weight Gain
A number of independent clinical studies have conclusively shown individuals that sleep less than six hours a day are almost always 30% more likely to become obese than those that sleep between eight and nine hours every day.
Appetite is increased (particularly cravings for high carbohydrate foods) and weight skyrockets when you aren’t getting enough sleep. There’s no lack of sleep bloating when you aren’t getting enough rest, that’s for sure.
6. Early Death
Researchers in the United Kingdom looked at the mortality rates of more than 10,000 British citizens over a 20-year block of time and found that those that slept for between five and seven hours double their overall risk of death than those that got more sleep each night.
7. Immune System Crashes
Each night while you sleep your immune system sort of reboots and resets, with natural infection and bacteria-fighting substances like cytokines produced and released into the bloodstream. If you aren’t sleeping enough, these biochemicals aren’t produced or released, and your body is left seriously at risk.
Neurological Effects of Sleep Deprivation
8. Impaired Judgment
Not only can not getting enough sleep make you sick, but you can also wreak havoc on your judgment and your impulse behavior control. Sleep-deprived people are found time and time again to exercise for judgment, including in high-risk situations, according to a number of clinical studies.
9. Increased Risk of Depression
According to a Sleep in America study conducted in 2005 people that were sleeping six hours or less each night were found to be twice as likely to have been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety than those that got more than eight hours of sleep each evening.
10. Impaired Memory
A joint research project put together in 2009 by American and French University researchers found that a lack of sleep on a consistent basis – particularly for extended amounts of time – had a horrific impact on the hippocampus as well as the neocortex of your brain (where short and long-term memories are stored).
11. Impaired Critical Thinking
Any college student that has ever “crammed” for a test or pulled an all-nighter – or a couple of all-nighters in a row – knows that it’s really, really tough to learn, to form cohesive thoughts, and to feel coherent when you aren’t getting anywhere near enough sleep.
Attention is impaired, alertness and concentration go out the window, and your ability to reason or solve problems is diminished significantly when you aren’t getting as much sleep as you could or should be.
On top of all the other neurological issues we have mentioned above (not to mention that a lack of sleep swollen feet issues can pop up as well), if you go without sleep for a long enough block of time it can be possible to begin hallucinating. These hallucinations can feel very real, very vivid, and obviously put you in serious jeopardy and risk if you dissociate from the “real world” and respond to the hallucinations instead. They are a sure sign that you need to get some sleep ASAP.