This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

Don't let sleep deprivation catch up with you.

This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
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Sure, we’d all love to achieve the holy grail of eight hours of deep, restful sleep every single night. But as anyone with a job and/or kids knows all too well, real life will always find a way to cut your slumber short. Unfortunately, that lack of sleep does more than just make you groggy the next morning—it can have a major impact on your health, too. Need more incentive to call it an early night? Read on to discover the harmful side effects sleep deprivation has on your body.

Your balance becomes impaired.

woman falling down stairs, sleep deprivation Shutterstock/9nong

According to a 2018 study published in Scientific Reports, not getting enough sleep—or even just getting a poor night’s rest—can result in hindered balance. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is essential for your central nervous system (CNS) to function properly, and without it, the CNS isn’t capable of syncing up with other essential physiological processes, like the visual system. With the resulting lack of visual acuity and postural control, you’re more likely to find yourself having a potentially-serious stumble.

However, it’s not just bumps and bruises you have to worry about: As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, approximately one out of five falls in the 65-and-older community results in a serious injury, like a broken bone.

Your memory weakens.

forgetful man Sleep Deprivation Shutterstock

When your brain is running on fumes, it has trouble keeping track of the information it’s receiving. More specifically, a 2017 study conducted by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles tested the effect of sleepiness on cognitive function and found that when subjects were deprived of sleep, their neurons had trouble communicating. These misfiring neurons translated into a reduced ability to categorize images and therefore, recall memories.

“We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity,” lead study author Dr. Yuval Nir explained. “The neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”

You gain weight.

man standing on scale, sleep deprivation Shutterstock

As if walking around like a zombie all day isn’t bad enough, a lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain and obesity in the long term. According to a 2006 study of 68,000 women published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, those who got five hours of sleep or less per night gained 2.5 more pounds over the 16-year study period than women who slept soundly every night. Their risk of becoming obese was 15 percent higher as well.

“Usual sleep times of less than 7 hours are associated with a substantial increase in the risk of major weight gain and incident obesity,” the study authors noted, hypothesizing a link between those sleepless nights and changes in the body’s metabolic activity.

Your risk of developing diabetes increases.

Diabetes insulin bottle, sleep deprivation Shutterstock

When your body is running on little sleep, it compensates by excreting high levels of stress hormones like cortisol to keep you alert. According to a 2010 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, this can make you less sensitive to the effects of insulin, meaning your body converts the glucose in your bloodstream to energy less efficiently. Over time, this can lead to a buildup of glucose in your bloodstream, increasing your risk of diabetes.

Your heart health is on the line.

Man Having a Heart Attack, sleep deprivation Shutterstock

Every organ in the body needs sleep to function—the heart included. Researchers in Japan analyzed several studies determining the effect of sleep deprivation on heart health and, in a 2010 meta-analysis published in Current Cardiology Reviews, they found that getting five hours of sleep or fewer is directly correlated with an increased risk of hypertension and coronary heart disease.

The mechanism by which sleep deprivation affects the heart isn’t entirely clear. But the National Sleep Foundation notes that not partaking in adequate periods of rest can activate chemicals that “keep the body from achieving extended periods in which heart rate and blood pressure are lowered.”

Your immune system weakens.

woman sneezing into tissue, sleep deprivation Shutterstock

Whether it’s flu season or there’s a virus making its way through your workplace, your immune system is the first—and best—line of defense against those bugs going around. However, when your body doesn’t get enough sleep, your immune system becomes compromised. That’s because the systems involved in circulating white blood cells become impaired when the body is deprived of rest. And these white blood cells are what help the body ward off infection and disease.

One 2017 study, published in the journal Sleep, studied the effects of sleep deprivation on 11 pairs of identical twins and found that the sleep-deprived twins had weaker immune systems. “The immune system functions best when it gets enough sleep,” lead author Dr. Nathaniel Watson explained.

You lose your libido.

couple in bed sleep deprivation Shutterstock

Men and women alike suffer from a lack of sex drive when they don’t get enough sleep. For men, it has everything to do with testosterone: This hormone gives men both energy and desire, and levels are significantly decreased when sleep is lacking. For women, it’s all about how we feel: Sleepless nights result in depleted energy levels and increased irritability, the combination of which is unlikely to put anyone in the mood.

You become more susceptible to Alzheimer’s.

confused older asian man, alzheimer's, dementia, sleep deprivation Shutterstock/9nong

When a person develops Alzheimer’s, a protein known as amyloid-beta builds up in the brain and disrupts cell function. Just one night of sleep deprivation can significantly increase levels of amyloid-beta in the brain, meaning chronic sleep deprivation can be seriously detrimental to your cognitive function over time.

You become ravenous.

man feeling full not hungry, sleep deprivation Shutterstock

Human beings are supposed to eat for survival, but most of the time we eat because, quite frankly, food is just too delicious for us to pass up. Unfortunately for those of us who are sleep-deprived, it’s even harder to tune out those impulsive eating cues, as a lack of sleep makes us crave food the same way marijuana does.

“Sleep restriction boosts a signal that may increase the hedonic aspect of food intake, the pleasure and satisfaction gained from eating,” Erin Hanlon, PhD, told Medical News Today. “Sleep restriction seems to augment the endocannabinoid system, the same system targeted by the active ingredient of marijuana, to enhance the desire for food intake.”

Your reflexes weaken.

woman kickboxing, sleep deprivation Shutterstock

Should you ever encounter a life-threatening situation where you have to act fast, you’re definitely going to wish you were well-rested. A 2000 study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Studies found that after 17 hours without rest, people functioned as though they had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent. After 20 to 25 hours without sleep, that number rose to 0.1 percent, well over the legal driving limit in the United States.

Your skin ages more rapidly.

man looking in mirror, sleep deprivation Shutterstock

Poor sleeping habits don’t just affect your body on the inside. According to a 2007 study published in the journal Sleep, women who didn’t get enough sleep showed increased signs of aging skin, including reduced elasticity, more fine lines, and a reduced ability to heal from sunburns.

As Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, explained to Allure, our cortisol levels naturally decrease when we sleep. Since this hormone helps the skin regenerate and repair, losing sleep can significantly contribute to the skin’s aging process. And if you’re eager to look more radiant, then check out these 13 Creepy Skin Care Routines That Actually Work.

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