Sleep is important. Everyone needs to sleep. Of course, the amount of sleep is dependent on each individual.
Babies, for instance, need twice as much sleep as adults.
Different activity levels also require different amounts of sleep. However, one constant still remains. Everyone needs sleep.
So what happens to your mind and body when you don’t get enough sleep? Well, a lot of things.
Some of these things you’ve probably experienced after staying up all night cramming for an exam. Some of these side effects may come as a shock to you.
Let’s dive right in.
What is Sleep Deprivation?
This may surprise you:
There are not concrete numbers that define sleep deprivation. There aren’t experts saying, “if you don’t have 7 hours of sleep a night, you’re sleep deprived.”
Everyone is different and needs different amounts of sleep.
Sleep deprivation can be defined as when your body is getting less sleep than it needs.
Pretty simple right?
But how do you know if your body isn’t getting enough sleep?
Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation
These side effects and symptoms may be an indicator that you’re not giving your body the sleep it needs.
The most common side effect of sleep deprivation is fatigue or sleepiness during the day. If you can’t stay awake at work or at school, you probably need more sleep.
You’ll also start to be more forgetful, be less able to concentrate, and become more irritable.
You have probably had experience with most the symptoms listed. However, there are some side effects of sleep deprivation that a lot of people don’t know about.
Increased blood pressure, increased risk of obesity, and a weakened immune system are all side effects of a lack of sleep as well.
Take a closer look at your sleep schedule if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. More sleep may be the key to fighting these side effects.
Causes of Sleep Deprivation
Technically there is but one cause of sleep deprivation:
Lack of sleep.
However, the different reasons behind that lack of sleep can vary.
Insomnia is a common cause of sleep deprivation. This includes the inability to fall asleep or have quality sleep for a number of reasons. It often involves people tossing and turning in bed, wishing they could doze off.
Insomnia affects about 60 million Americans every year. It is typically caused by anxiety, stress, or depression. These emotional issues are the cause of half of all insomnia cases. However, your daily routine impacts your ability to sleep at night as well.
Sleep apnea is another common cause of sleep deprivation. This is when breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep which prevents your body from getting a good night’s rest. You might wake up feeling like you didn’t sleep all night.
Other causes of sleep deprivation may just be from working the night shift, partying all night long, or being a parent with a sick child.
Talk to your doctor if you are completely unable to get sleep despite your best efforts. You may have a sleeping disorder.
How Sleep Deprivation Affects the Body
Your body needs sleep.
Without it, many things will start to happen.
You’ve probably experienced the side effects of going without sleep for a day, but what about 2 days? Or even 3 days?
This is what happens to your body when you go without sleep for too long.
Sleep Deprivation Chart
Going without sleep affects your entire body and day-to-day life. Your body and mind will be affected negatively without proper sleep.
Interesting fact: some scientists say that going without sleep for 24 hours is the equivalent of having an alcohol blood content of .10 percent. It is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent.
Most people will start to feel the effects of sleep deprivation after 24 hours without sleep.
Increased Risk of Obesity
Sleep deprivation actually increases your risk of obesity.
One study found that women who slept 5 hours or less had a 15% higher risk of becoming obese.
The longer your body goes without sleep, the more off balance the chemicals in your body are.
The chemical that signals to your body that you’re full is not as effective when you’re sleep deprived. This means that you can more easily overeat because your body doesn’t know that it’s full. This leads to weight gain, and in some cases, obesity.
High Blood Pressure
Your body does not function as it should without the proper amount of sleep.
Being tired throughout the day means your body is working overtime to keep you awake. This means that your blood pressure starts to rise and contributes to high blood pressure.
Sleeping less than 5 hours a night increases your risk for high blood pressure.
Increased Risk of Diabetes
This can shock a lot of people.
Yes, it’s true. Lack of sleep can increase your risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes.
Lack of sleep actually affects your body’s ability to release insulin properly. Insulin lowers your blood sugar when it starts to get too high.
Individuals that don’t get enough sleep have high blood sugar and an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes.
Increased Risk of Heart Disease
Since lack of sleep leads to higher blood pressure, this, in turn, increases the risk for heart disease.
Lack of sleep also leads to higher chemicals that are linked to inflammation. Paired with high blood pressure, the risk of heart disease can go up.
It’s the perfect storm.
The longer you go without sleep, the more your balance is affected.
People that are sleep deprived are frequently dizzier and clumsier than they typically are with the proper amount of sleep.
This can lead to an increase in falls and accidents that require hand-eye-coordination, like driving. This can be especially worrisome for the elderly as they are more likely to break bones when they fall.
Weaker Immune System
Sleep deprivation weakens your body’s ability to fight off harmful viruses.
This means that you are more likely to get sick if you are exposed to harmful viruses, and it will take you longer to get over your illness if you become infected.
In fact, people that sleep 6 hours or less a night are 4 times more likely to catch a cold compared to people that get 7 or more hours of sleep a night.
How Sleep Deprivation Affects the Mind
Sleep deprivation isn’t good for your body. Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing it isn’t good for. Your mind will start to suffer the longer you go without sleep as well.
Some have even challenged themselves to experience sleep deprivation, setting a world record in the process!
World Record for Longest Stretch of Going Without Sleep
Slow Thought Processes
All of your thought processes are slowed when you’re sleep deprived. You’d be surprised at how much a compromised thought process can impact your day.
Sleep deprivation leads to lower alertness and concentration. This makes it extra difficult for students to pay attention in class and may be the cause of low grades.
It’s also more difficult to focus and pay attention. This will not only affect students in school but also people who work. Your job performance could suffer if you aren’t fully rested.
Your ability to drive, operate machinery, and the like can also become negatively impacted with diminished mental capacity.
Complex thought and logical reasoning are also impacted.
So what does this mean?
It’s awfully hard to do well in both school and work settings if you aren’t getting enough sleep.
This can be dangerous especially for teenagers.
Teenagers already have a hard time with proper judgment because their frontal lobe isn’t fully developed yet. Lack of sleep makes this even worse.
Teenagers that are sleep deprived will have a poorer judgment in social settings, appropriate behavior, and even operating a car. All of these require proper judgment.
This is why it’s so important that younger people and teenagers get the proper sleep they need.
The nerve connections that make up your memories are strengthened when you sleep.
Sleep deprivation makes it harder for your brain to store things in your short-term memory. This also makes it harder for anything to get to your long-term memory.
One study took a group of women and interviewed them about their memory and their thinking skills three times over 6 years. Scientists found that women that slept 5 hours or less performed worse than those that got 7 or 8 hours of sleep. They concluded that women that underslept and overslept were mentally 2 years older than women that got an average of 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
Memory is important in our everyday lives. You depend on memories to help you get through the day. The proper amount of sleep is important for the development of new memories.
Slowed Reaction Time
This is perhaps the most dangerous side effect of sleep deprivation.
Many people who are sleep deprived still continue to operate vehicles. This is dangerous to themselves, and also to everyone around them.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 crashes that are reported are due to driver fatigue.
However, other estimates put that number a lot higher. Some estimates are as high as 1 million and claim that driver fatigue is the cause of 20% of all car crashes.
Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
New evidence suggests that continuous lack of sleep may be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease is associated with a protein in the brain called beta-amyloid.
One study looked at the link between going without sleep and beta-amyloid buildup. The study showed that there was a 5% increase in beta-amyloid after participants went without sleep for 31 hours.
Although the study was small, the evidence suggests that a continuous pattern of lack of sleep may lead to a buildup of the protein beta-amyloid which could result in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.
What’s the Bottom Line?
There are many negative side effects to sleep deprivation. A lot of bad things happen to your mind and body without sleep.
That’s why it’s so important that sleep is on your list of priorities. Don’t stay up late watching Netflix, get your shut-eye.
Your mind and body’s long-term health depends on it.