If you exercise regularly and eat healthily but don’t log at least seven hours of sleep each night, you are undermining all your health-related efforts.
Sleep is vital for your health. And not getting enough of it does more than just make you feel grumpy and fatigued the morning after.
Research has found that a lack of good-quality sleep leads to a slew of health problems — everything from a decreased sex drive to a weakened immune system. It can also increase your risk of diseases like diabetes.
So in this article, we’ll see what happens to your body when you stop getting quality sleep.
Your immune system weakens
If you always seem to catch every flu that’s going around, your sleep practices may be to blame.
Studies have found that a chronic lack of sleep can send your immune system into disarray and reduce your ability to successfully fight off bugs and illnesses.
And when you get sick, you may lose even more sleep as a result of inflammation, which can create a vicious circle.
Your cardiovascular system suffers
During sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure fall and the body starts repairing itself for the next day.
This means losing out on sleep can lead to a decline in your cardiovascular health, especially when it comes to blood pressure regulation.
Inflamed blood vessels near the heart are susceptible to greater plaque build-up when your body doesn’t get adequate sleep “repair” time. This can greatly increase your risk of suffering from a stroke or heart attack in the future.
Lack of sleep also leads to an increased production of adrenaline, which is the body’s fight or flight hormone. Adrenaline makes the heart pump harder and faster. And in the long run, this can be extremely taxing on your heart and may even lead to heart failure.
Interestingly, both shorter (less than 4-5 hours each night) and longer (more than 9 hours each night) sleep durations have been shown to have unfavorable effects on your heart.
If you are concerned about your health in this way, it may be beneficial to see a doctor and assess your sleep patterns in greater detail. You may suffer from a sleeping disorder like sleep apnea where solutions like a CPAP device can reduce the effect of sleepless nights on your body.
Your sex drive diminishes
Numerous studies have found that sleep-deprived individuals are less interested in sexual activities and have low libidos (sexual drive). This is due to a combination of low energy, sleepiness, and increased stress that sleep deprivation causes.
One particular study found that males who lost sleep over a 7-day period showed a dramatic decrease in their testosterone levels. Sleeping for 5 hours or less resulted in a 10-15% reduction in their circulating sex hormones.
The participants also reported that they felt a noticeable decline in their vigor and general mood after each night of poor quality sleep.
Your brain’s cognitive function declines
Sleep supports cognitive functions like learning, judgment, concentration, reasoning, and memory consolidation.
Therefore, if you fail to get enough sleep, you can expect some impairment in each of these cognitive functions.
Even one sleepless night can make your brain feel like it’s drunk and will cause a significant decline in cognitive functions.
According to the division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard, being sleepless for 24 hours impacts cognitive performance about as much as a blood-alcohol level of 0.10% (which is beyond the legal limit of alcohol intoxication in the U.S).
Researchers have also found that sleep-deprived individuals are up to 2.9 times more likely to be involved in a major car accident if they function on 4 or fewer hours of slumber in the last 24 hours.
It’s important to note that these effects are only short-term. This means if you pay back your “sleep debt” in the coming nights, your brain will get back on its feet and start functioning normally.
You gain extra weight
A chronic lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain. Think of it this way — when you’re sleep-deprived, it’s easy to rely on a large-sized latte to help you keep going.
You might also be more tempted to skip exercise or order takeout food for dinner because you’re too tired.
Getting insufficient sleep essentially sets up your brain to make bad choices. Poor sleep lowers the activity in the frontal part of the brain, which is responsible for impulse control and decision making.
This means you don’t have enough mental clarity to make healthy choices when you skimp on sleep.
Your brain’s reward centers also go into overdrive when you don’t get enough sleep. This means your brain forces you to seek things that might be unhealthy but make you feel good (think coffee).
So while you might have the willpower to say no to food cravings normally, your sleepless brain will have trouble doing the same.
If all of this was a one-off occurrence, it wouldn’t be much of a problem. But the trouble is that most of us fail to get enough sleep regularly, so cognitive impairment may pile up over time and lead to significant impairment in our daily functioning.
You’re more likely to get diabetes
In addition to packing on a few extra pounds, research suggests that sleep deprivation can increase your risk of developing type 2 (adult) diabetes.
This is because sleep deprivation causes your circulating hormone levels to become irregular.
Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are secreted more to help your body stay awake. And these hormones may cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly.
Another way your risk for diabetes increases is insulin dysregulation. Sleep deprivation makes you gain weight, which in turn reduces your body’s ability to respond to insulin. Since insulin is responsible for keeping blood sugar down if the body can’t respond to it, sugar levels rise.
This is called insulin resistance, which can turn into full-blown diabetes in the long run. You can read about all of the terrible complications of diabetes here.
Originally posted 2021-11-11 00:37:43.