What is Sleep Deprivation and How Does It Affect You?
Sleep deprivation is caused by consistent lack of sleep or reduced quality of sleep. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis can eventually lead to health consequences that affect your entire body. This may also be caused by an underlying sleep disorder.
Noticeable signs of sleep deprivation include:
- excessive sleepiness
- frequent yawning
- daytime fatigue
Your body needs sleep, just as it needs air and food to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new thought connections and helps memory retention. Without enough sleep, your brain and body systems won’t function normally. It can also dramatically lower your quality of life.
A review of studies in 2010 found that sleeping too little at night increases the risk of early death.
Stimulants, such as caffeine, aren’t enough to override your body’s profound need for sleep. In fact, these can make sleep deprivation worse by making it harder to fall asleep at night. This could lead to a cycle of night time insomnia followed by daytime caffeine consumption to combat the tiredness caused by the lost hours of shut-eye.
Behind the scenes, chronic sleep deprivation can interfere with your body’s internal systems and cause more than just the initial signs and symptoms listed above. Let’s take a brief look at the body systems affected by poor sleep.
Central Nervous System
Your central nervous system is the main information highway of your body.
You may also find it more difficult to concentrate or learn new things. You may also experience a decrease in your coordination, increasing your risk for accidents.
Sleep deprivation also negatively affects your mental abilities and emotional state. You may feel more impatient or prone to mood swings. It can also compromise decision-making processes and creativity.
You may also end up experiencing what is called microsleep during the day when you’ll fall asleep for a few to several seconds without realizing it – dangerous in the extreme, if you are driving a car or operating equipment when it happens.
While you sleep, your immune system produces protective, infection-fighting substances like antibodies and cytokines. It uses these substances to combat foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses; other cytokines also help you to sleep, giving your immune system more efficiency to defend your body against illness.
Sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from building up its forces. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body may not be able to fend off invaders, and it may also take you longer to recover from illness.
The relationship between sleep and the respiratory system goes both ways.
Night time awakenings can cause sleep deprivation, leaving you more vulnerable to respiratory infections like the common cold and flu. Sleep deprivation can also make existing respiratory diseases worse, such as chronic lung illness.
Along with eating too much and not exercising, sleep deprivation is another risk factor for becoming overweight and obese. Sleep affects the levels of two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, which control feelings of hunger and fullness.
Leptin tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. Without enough sleep, your brain reduces leptin and raises ghrelin, which is an appetite stimulant. The flux of these hormones could explain night time snacking or why someone may overeat later in the night.
A lack of sleep can also make you feel too tired to exercise. Over time, reduced physical activity can make you gain weight because you’re not burning enough calories and not building muscle mass.
Sleep deprivation also causes your body to release less insulin after you eat. Insulin helps to reduce your blood sugar (glucose) level as well as lowers the body’s tolerance for glucose, which is associated with insulin resistance. These disruptions can lead to diabetes and obesity.
Sleep affects processes that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, including those that affect your blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation levels. It also plays a vital role in your body’s ability to heal and repair the blood vessels and heart.
People who don’t sleep enough are more likely to get cardiovascular disease, One study has established a link between insomnia and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Hormone production is dependent on your sleep. For example, testosterone production requires at least 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep, which is about the time of your first R.E.M. episode.
Waking up throughout the night could affect hormone production, especially in children and adolescents. These hormones help the body build muscle mass and repair cells and tissues, in addition to other growth functions
So do you know (or think) you are sleep deprived?
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