Beyond nodding off in your work meeting or putting the ice-cream in the fridge, there are tons of negative things that can happen when you don’t get enough sleep. Getting a restful sleep at night is important for everyone, no matter what their age, gender, or lifestyle habits.
At night, the body uses this time of rest to carry out many of the essential body functions, like fighting disease, strengthening the immune system, and supporting brain activity. Not only are you grumpy and unpleasant to be around when you're exhausted but several of your body functions begin to slow down or stop completely. Logging seven to eight hours of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep each night also helps your body maintain its metabolism and develop immunities to chronic illnesses.
If you’re concerned about the quality or amount of rest you get each night, learning more about its impacts on your body can help you better prioritize sleep.
Deterioration in Mood
When you wake up seven times a night to check the notifications on your phone, you can bet that your mood isn’t going to be top-notch the next day. Limited sleep each night can result in feelings of stress, anger, sadness, and overall exhaustion.
A lack of sleep is closely linked to mood disorders as your brain needs the time to process thoughts and memories. The brain simply cannot do this if it's busy processing the tweets you're scrolling through on Twitter. Deep, REM sleep is the key player when it comes to your brain processing emotional information at night.
For folks who already struggle with mental health conditions like anxiety, PTSD, and depression, sleep is even more crucial. Poor sleeping habits can actually exacerbate existing mental health disorders and worsen the symptoms that one may feel throughout the day.
If you’ve noticed a deterioration in your overall mood and well-being, improving your sleep hygiene is a great place to start.
Your central nervous system is affected
Your central nervous system, otherwise known as the body’s control center, is responsible for most of your body’s functions, such as movement, thinking, awareness, speech, and your five senses. A restful sleep each night is incredibly important when it comes to keeping your central nervous system functioning properly.
While you’re sleeping, tiny pathways form between neurons in your brain, which help you remember any new information that you’ve learned. If you become sleep deprived, your brain is left exhausted and unable to perform its essential duties.
Signs that your central nervous system isn’t firing on all cylinders due to lack of sleep include: difficulty focusing, decreased coordination, impulsive behavior, hallucinations, and episodes of microsleep. When you’re experiencing microsleep episodes, you may fall asleep for a few seconds throughout the day and not even realize it.
Your immune system may become compromised
Now more than ever, because of COVID-19, a properly functioning immune system is crucial. When you go to sleep each night, your immune system works to produce infection-fighting antibodies. These protective substances are responsible for fending off harmful bacteria and viruses.
If you’re staying up all night with friends or have an addiction to scrolling through TikTok, your immune system isn’t getting the opportunity to build its force of tiny antibodies. This means that you are at a higher risk of coming down with an illness. It may even take you longer to recover from any illnesses that you develop—and most of us can’t afford to use all of our “sick days” up at once.
Those who experience long-term sleep deprivation are also at risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Your metabolism might slow down
It might not be your weekly hamburger cheat meal that’s keeping you from losing those last five pounds. Instead, a lack of sleep could be interfering with your metabolism. During sleep, your brain regulates the production of leptin and ghrelin, two very important hormones that control your hunger. If you don’t get enough REM sleep each night, your brain reduces the amount of leptin and increases the amount of ghrelin that it is producing. This can cause a spike in your hunger, resulting in a trip downstairs, to the fridge, for a late night snack.
When you aren’t getting enough sleep, you might also lack the energy and motivation needed to exercise. Reduced physical activity can also cause weight gain or inhibit any desired weight loss.
Your hormones could fluctuate
Hormones are responsible for coordinating some of your body’s functions, like hair growth, sexual funtion, mood, growth and development, and reproduction. The production of these hormones is really dependent on your sleep.
Restless, inadequate sleep can also affect the production of the growth hormone, particularly in teenagers and children. This hormone is released by the pituitary gland and plays an important part in building muscle mass, repairing tissues, and more essential growth functions.
Your cardiovascular system can be impacted
If heart problems run in your family, it’s absolutely imperative that you prioritize a healthy sleep routine. Not getting enough sleep can negatively impact the processes that are responsible for keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy. It can also impact your blood pressure and sugar. Plus, poor sleep can also result in inflammation on the inside of your body.
People who neglect to get a good sleep each night have a higher risk of getting cardiovascular disease, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
How to improve your sleep
The good news is that it’s easy to improve the length and quality of your sleep. If you’re looking to improve your sleep hygiene, try implementing these suggestions:
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable.
- Avoid any blue light exposure two hours before going to bed. This means no phones, computers, or TV. Instead, try listening to a podcast or reading a book.
- Avoid caffeine, sugary meals, and alcohol before going to bed.
- Add cardiovascular exercise into your fitness routine.
- Maintain a healthy diet and consider adding a supplement to ensure you’re getting all of the nutrients and vitamins that your body needs.