Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body
You need sleep as much as you need to breathe and eat. While you’re sleeping, your body is busy tending to your physical and mental health and getting you ready for another day.
In children and adolescents, hormones that promote growth are released during sleep. These hormones help build muscle mass, as well as make repairs to cells and tissues. Sleep is vital to development during puberty.
When you’re deprived of sleep, your brain can’t function properly, affecting your cognitive abilities and emotional state. If it continues long enough, it can lower your body’s defenses, putting you at risk of developing chronic illness. The more obvious signs of sleep deprivation are excessive sleepiness, yawning, and irritability. Chronic sleep deprivation can interfere with balance, coordination, and decision-making abilities. You’re at risk falling asleep during the day, even if you fight it. Stimulants like caffeine are not able to override your body’s profound need for sleep.
When you’re sleep deprived, the effects of alcohol consumption are magnified, as is your risk of being involved in an accident. According to Harvard Medical School, studies show that sleeping less than five hours a night increases the risk of death from all causes by about 15 percent. Sleep deprivation is dangerous to your mental and physical health and can dramatically lower your quality of life.
Central Nervous System
Your central nervous system is the information highway of your body. Sleep is necessary to keep it functioning properly. During sleep, the brain rests busy neurons and forms new pathways so you’re ready to face the world in the morning. In children and young adults, the brain releases growth hormones during sleep. While you’re sleeping, your body is also producing proteins that help cells repair damage.
Sleep deprivation leaves the brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties well. The most obvious effect is sleepiness. You may find yourself yawning a lot and feeling sluggish. Lack of sleep interferes with your ability to concentrate and learn new things. It can negatively impact both short-term and long-term memory. It gets in the way of your decision-making process and stifles creativity. Your emotions are also affected, making you more likely to have a short temper and mood swings. Overall cognitive function is impaired.
If sleep deprivation continues long enough, you’re at increased risk of hallucinations, especially if you have narcolepsy or systemic lupus erythematosis. Lack of sleep can trigger mania in people who have manic depression. Other risks include impulsive behavior, depression, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts.
A side effect of sleep deprivation is micro sleep. That’s when you’re asleep for only a few seconds or a few minutes, but you don’t realize it. If you’re sleep deprived, micro sleep is out of your control and can be extremely dangerous if you’re driving. It can also make you more prone to injury due to trips and falls. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, insufficient sleep has played a part in tragic accidents involving airplanes, ships, and even nuclear reactor meltdowns.
When you’re sleeping, your immune system produces protective cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies and cells. It uses these tools to fight off foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. These cytokines and other protective substances also help you sleep, giving the immune system more energy to defend against illness.
Sleep deprivation means your immune system doesn’t have a chance to build up its forces. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that if you don’t get enough sleep, it’s more likely that your body won’t be able to fend off invaders. It may also take you longer to recover from illness. Long-term sleep deprivation raises your risk of developing chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Since sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system, you’re more vulnerable to respiratory problems like the common cold and influenza. If you already have a chronic lung disease, sleep deprivation is likely to make it worse.
According to Harvard Medical School, a few studies have found a link between lack of sleep and weight gain. Along with eating too much and not exercising, sleep deprivation is one of the risk factors for obesity.
Sleep deprivation increases production of the stress hormone cortisol. Lack of sleep lowers your levels of a hormone called leptin, which tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. In addition, it raises levels of a biochemical called ghrelin, which is an appetite stimulant.
Sleep deprivation prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat, promoting fat storage and increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Since you’re more likely to gain weight if you’re chronically sleep deprived, you’re also at increased risk of problems with your cardiovascular system.
Sleep plays a vital role in your body’s ability to heal and repair your blood vessels and heart. Sleep deprivation can lead to higher risk of chronic health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. According to Harvard Medical School, for people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day.