10 surprising ways lack of sleep can affect your body

Sleep deprivation can have some pretty unusual affects on the body [Photo: Pixabay via Pexels]
Sleep deprivation can have some pretty unusual affects on the body [Photo: Pixabay via Pexels]

Chugging the coffee? Plastering on the under-eye concealer? Struggling to concentrate? While the immediate effects of a night without enough Zzzs are often obvious, bleary eyes and oversized yawns aren’t the only effects a lack of sleep can have on your body.

Indeed, there are actually much more sneaky ways not getting enough shut-eye can show itself.

“Sleep is the most powerful natural performance enhancer known to human kind, responsible for our mental, emotional and physical well being,” explains Dr Guy Meadows, Clinical Director of The Sleep School

According to the National Sleep Foundation the average adult needs about seven to nine hours shut eye every night. But recent research by The Sleep Council revealed that 70% of us get less than seven hours a night.

But while one bad night’s sleep won’t do much more than turn us into a groggy, grouchy grump, long-term sleep deprivation can have far more serious consequences for our health and body including leading to heart problems and obesity. Yikes.

Introducing the nightmarish side effects of sleep deprivation…

Weight gain

Turns out not getting enough zeds can play havoc with your waistline. “Poor sleep disrupts the appetite and satiety hormones Leptin and Ghrelin causing us to crave more sugary food, eat more and gain weight,” explains Dr Meadows.

Lowers your immune system

Can’t shake the sniffles? Lack of sleep could be the problem. “Regularly sleeping less than 6 hours sleep per night increases our risk of catching the common cold by 4.5 times, as well as increasing the time taken to recover,” says Dr Meadows.

Not getting enough sleep? [Photo: Pixabay via Pexels]
Not getting enough sleep? [Photo: Pixabay via Pexels]

Increased risk of heart problems

While a few bad nights here and there won’t put you at serious risk, prolonged sleeplessness could have some pretty scary consequences for heart health. “Poor sleep is associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart attacks,” explains Dr Meadows. “The reasons for this include an increased risk of high blood pressure, elevated blood inflammatory markers and poor dietary and lifestyle factors.”

Fertility Issues

“Men who get too little sleep may be damaging their fertility,” says Hope Bastine, psychologist and SIMBA Sleep’s ‘Think Well Sleep Well’ Ambassador. “In 2013, Scientists from the University of Southern Denmark found that young men who suffered disturbed sleep had sperm counts that were more than a quarter lower than those who slept more. Those who suffered disturbed sleep with less than six hours a night also had lower sperm quality.”

And lack of sleep can affect women’s fertility too. “Many women who are trying to conceive may not realise there is a link between fertility and sleep deprivation. A special hormone called Leptin affects ovulation. Women need adequate sleep for proper leptin production. When leptin production is compromised, menstrual cycles can be disrupted.”

Increased blood sugar levels

The spikes in blood sugar levels witnessed by those with diabetes are on a similar level to people experiencing sleep deprivation. “Poor sleep appears to alter the function of insulin, leading to an insulin resistance type effect resulting in high blood sugar,” says Dr Meadows.

Bad skin

Can’t work out why those fancy beauty creams are having little effect on your appearance? Yeah you might want to rethink your bedtime routine. “Sleep plays a vital role in the repair and regeneration of all cells including skin cells,” explains Dr Meadows.

If there’s another good reason to take sleep more seriously, it’s this. Studies have shown sleep deprivation could cause your skin to age faster. “A good night’s sleep can aid good skin health because when you’re sleep-deprived, your body makes more of the stress hormone cortisol. Increased levels of cortisol can lead to heightened stress and inflammation in the body, harming your skin’s quality,” explains Hope Bastine.

Increased inflammatory cells in the body lead to an increase in the breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid, the molecules that give the skin its bounce, glow and translucency.

Depression and anxiety

According to Dr Meadows a bidirectional relationship exists between poor sleep and poor mental health. “It is well documented that poor sleep is a symptom of depression and anxiety,” he explains. “However, research also suggests that persistent insomnia can increase an individuals risk of depression and anxiety occurring or recurring.”

Need. More. Sleep [Photo: Unsplash via Pexels]
Need. More. Sleep [Photo: Unsplash via Pexels]

Cognitive performance

Just five days of poor sleep (e.g. 6hrs versus 8hrs) is reported to have the same negative impact on cognitive performance as two whole nights without sleep. Wowzers! “Higher order executive functions such as problem solving, focus and attention and memory recall are all dramatically reduced when we don’t get enough sleep,” explains Dr Meadows.

Lack of PMA

PMA left the building? Time to up your Zzzs. “Poor sleep shifts us from our modern rational prefrontal cortex into our primitive threat detecting amygdala,” says Dr Meadows. “Research suggests that in this state we view the world around and ourselves us more negatively. This lowers mood, trust and makes it harder for us to form new or maintain old relationships.”

Brain washing

“When we sleep the Glymphatic system opens small channels in the brain to flush out neuro-toxins built up during the day,” explains Dr Meadows. Not being able to rid the mind of these toxins could have some serious consequences. “It is speculated that poor sleep may lead to a deterioration in this system and the consequent build up of toxins may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s,” he says.

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