What happens to you and your body when you don't get enough sleep? Have you ever wondered that? I know I have—multiple times. In this article we are going to go over the exact effects sleep deprivation has on your body and mind, who gets the least amount of sleep and why, and the sleep stages and cycles explained as simply and succinctly as possible. Here's everything you need to know about why you need sleep and why it's time to actually make sleep a priority once again.
When you don't get enough sleep your body's ability to fight off illnesses is impaired. Studies show that individuals who don't get enough sleep or don't get enough high-quality sleep are not only more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus but will also take a longer time to recover compared to those who get a sufficient 8 hours of sleep.
While you sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines which can help promote sleep. Sleep deprivation can decrease production of the protection cytokines. Additionally, infection-fighting antibodies are significantly reduced during periods of sleep deprivation. How much sleep do you need to maintain a healthy, infection-fighting immune system? The optimal amount of sleep varies from individual to individual, however, generally, the recommended amount for adults is between 7-9 hours. Infants, teenagers, and athletes typically need much and in certain instances—much more.
Sleep and sex share an interdependent relationship. No matter your age or gender, not getting enough sleep significantly impacts sexual desire. For example, one study found that 5 or fewer hours of sleep per night reduced sex hormone by 10 percent. Another similar study concluded that only 4 hours of sleep per night can decrease testosterone levels by 15% or more and if continued, can lead to deficient levels.
Furthermore, according to a Danish study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, sleep deprivation lowers sperm quality in men. The group of researchers found that of the study's 953 subjects, those who were sleep-deprived not only had a lower sexual desire but also had lower-quality semen compared to those who were not.
Regardless of age, weight, smoking, and exercise habits, getting enough high-quality sleep is incredibly important for having a healthy heart. A recent study in sleep-deprived adolescents who slept fewer than 5 hours per night were found to have higher cholesterol levels, a higher body mass index, larger waist sizes, higher blood pressure, and even an increased risk of hypertension.
A 2011 European Heart Journal review of 15 medical studies that included nearly 475,000 individuals found that those who slept fewer than 6 hours per night had a 48% increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease in a seven to 25-year follow-up period and a greater risk of developing or even dying from a stroke during the same period. As Phyllis Zee, who is the director of the Sleep Disorders Program at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine said, "Lack of sleep doesn't necessarily cause heart disease...It really increases the risk factors for heart disease."
As a Johns Hopkins Medicine article states, "Disruptions in the body's biological clock which controls sleep and thousands of other functions, may raise the odds of cancers of the breast, colon, ovaries, and prostate. Exposure to light while working overnight shifts for several years may reduce levels of melatonin encouraging cancer to grow."
We all know what it feels like to run on less than optimal sleep. You're not happy, you have less energy, and overall you just feel bad. Sleep is just as important for you mentally as it is physically. Make sleep a priority and try to sleep as much as you need but avoid the temptation to oversleep. Interestingly, according to the European Heart Journal mass study review that we discussed earlier, long sleepers—individuals who averaged over nine hours of sleep per night displayed a 38% increased risk of developing or dying from CHD (coronary heart disease) and a 65% increased risk of stroke compared to those who sleep the optimal 7-8 hours per night.
Poor or lack of sleep has been linked to weight gain and obesity. As Eve Van Cauter, who is the director of the Sleep, Metabolism, and Health Center at the University of Chicago states, "There is no doubt that insufficient sleep promotes hunger and appetite, which can cause excessive food intake resulting in weight gain." She continued, "Our body is not wired for sleep deprivation. The human is the only mammal that does this."
Studies have shown when individuals do not get enough sleep they:
Kenneth Wright, who is the director of sleep and chronobiology lab at the University of Colorado in Boulder stated very simply, "When people are sleepy they make poor choices and are more likely to eat more than they need."
Less sleep means less insulin which is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar and is released into the body after you eat. The end result is too much glucose stays in the bloodstream which can directly increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your physical appearance. Lack of high-quality sleep affects wound healing, collagen production, skin hydration, and even skin texture. Sleep-deprived individuals also experience higher levels of inflammation, causing outbreaks of acne, eczema and skin allergies.
According to a recent survey that included nearly 150,000 adult Americans, nearly 4% of the participants reported having fallen asleep while driving at least once in the past 30 days. A startling statistic to say the least. According to the National Sleep Foundation, "driving after being awake for 18 hours straight makes you feel like you have a blood-alcohol level of .05 (0.8 is considered drunk)." If you were to drive after being awake for 24 consecutive hours you would feel like you have a blood-alcohol level of .10!
Memory, decision-making, reasoning, problem-solving, reaction time, and alertness all decline with sleep deprivation. Sleep is incredibly important and today sleep quality and quantity are at an all-time low. Insufficient sleep has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and obesity.
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