Sleep deprivation effects are one of today’s leading health problems and a major cause of weight gain. We are sleeping an average of 2 hours less a night than we did 100 years ago, and we are just not designed to function like that. In our over stimulated and time poor world, we tend to cut out sleep time to carry out other tasks.
Inadequate sleep can show up in many ways you might not think of, like weakened immune system, impaired thinking abilities, and increased stress levels. Some people may be fine on 5 hours of sleep but most of us need at least 6-8 hours every day.
When we party all night, or stay up with a sick child, we expect to feel at least a bit awful the next day. We know that if we need to drive a long way or do a task requiring major accuracy and focus that staying up late isn’t a good idea. What we don’t usually consider though is the cumulative effect of that 2 hours less a night. Chronic sleep deprivation builds up a major sleep debt your body can’t continue to pay.
The Stress / Sleep Loss Merry go round
Excess cortisol from chronic stress lowers our ability to sleep deeply. Inadequate quality sleep then increases cortisol making it increasingly difficult to deal with stress.
Effects and Risks
While one of the most obvious sleep deprivation effects is fatigue, it can more commonly affect your metabolism, resulting in weight gain. Other consequences include increasing the risk of diabetes, and hypertension. Because our immune system needs deep slow wave sleep when we don’t get enough, we may be more likely to get sick. Inadequate rest can harm our health, career, relationships and overall well-being.
Obesity and weight gain
The hormones Leptin and Grehlin control appetite and weight gain and loss. Leptin signals that we are full, while Grehlin increases appetite.
One of the most dastardly sleep deprivation effects is the increase in cortisol (stress hormone) which reduces muscle mass. Losing muscle mass is your worst weight loss nightmare because metabolism slows down.
Fatigue and hormonal disruption can lead to feeling sad, losing interest in activities you used to enjoy and pulling away from other people.
Sleep deprivation can trigger fears and even panic attacks.
Coronary heart disease and hypertension
Excess cortisol and insulin have devastating effects on blood triglycerides.
Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Increased cortisol (stress to body from not sleeping) goes hand in hand with increased insulin, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and its increased health risks.
The hippocampus enables us to store and organize memories – essential for retaining new information. Excess cortisol from stress and insufficient sleep interferes with this process. The hippocampus can actually shrink. Fatigue also interferes with our short-term memory by reducing the number of information chunks we can deal with.
Cognitive performance and alertness
Without enough sleep, we are not able to think properly and our brain reacts to any issue slowly. Our brains have to work harder to make up for a general lack of alertness. By reducing the brain’s ability to link events and actions with emotion, lack of sleep can bring on an array of psychiatric conditions including psychosis and memory loss. Mental fatigue leads to poor decision making and impaired problem-solving skills. Your relationships and performance at work can suffer as a result.
Drowsiness can make you more accident-prone. Physical fatigue will make your response times slower – dangerous while you’re driving a vehicle or operating machinery.
Immune function and overall health
Sleep deprivation and associated elevated cortisol suppresses our immune system and can kill off thymus cells (protect against viruses and tumor cells). We catch cold bugs and flu more easily and open ourselves up to other health risks.
One study found that sleeping less than 4 hours per night was associated with a 2.8 times higher rate of mortality for men and a 1.5 times higher rate for women. Making length of sleep time a better predictor of mortality than smoking, cardiac disease, or hypertension. We produce HGH (growth hormone that keeps us youthful) in deep sleep stages. If we don’t get quality sleep, we don’t make HGH.