The morning after a sleepless night usually leaves us cranky, tired and feeling generally “not-so-good”. Of course, this is something that everybody can relate to. However, many are unaware of the other more severe effects of sleep deprivation on the body, especially when it becomes a constant habit.
This article gives you insight into the full range of consequences that result from sleep deprivation.
What is Sleep Deprivation?
Sleep deprivation simply means getting less sleep than what is expected of you. For adults, the expected number of hours of sleep ranges between seven and nine hours each night, while children and teenagers require even more hours of sleep.
It is important to note that sleep experts have distinguished insomnia and sleep deprivation, although both of them deal with lack of sleep. In the case of insomnia, an individual cannot sleep even where there is enough time to sleep. In contrast, in the case of sleep deprivation, it is usually the case that an individual lacks sufficient time to sleep due to lifestyle.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
1. It weakens the immune system
The immune system takes advantage of your sleep period to produce substances that protect the body and fight infections like cytokines and antibodies. These substances are the defences that combat bacteria and viruses that attack the body.
When an individual is sleep deprived, the immune system is deprived of the chance to build up defences, thereby weakening the body's ability to fight off diseases and slowing down the time it takes to recover from injuries. When sleep deprivation extends for a long time, it increases the risk of severe conditions like heart disease, heart attack, diabetes and stroke.
2. Sleep deprivation may result in weight gain
According to experts, the lack of sleep may increase hunger and appetite, leading to weight gain. This means sleeping can be recommended for weight loss programs.
A study in 2004 revealed that people who sleep less than six hours each day were more likely (about 30% more) to become obese than those who slept for more extended hours (7-9).
Moreover, experts have stated that sleep deprivation leads to an increase in ghrelin levels – a peptide that stimulates hunger. It also leads to a decrease in the levels of leptin, a peptide that suppresses appetite. Moreover, it is essential to note that sleep does not just stimulate appetite, but it also stimulates a desire for fat and carbohydrate-rich foods.
3. Lack of sleep affects memory and the brain
You must have realised that school or work was more challenging after a night without sleep. After all, sleep is crucial for thinking and learning. Therefore, where an individual is deprived of sleep, these cognitive processes are impaired in various ways. For instance, lack of sleep disrupts alertness, reasoning and concentration, making learning near impossible.
Furthermore, sleep helps to consolidate memories and prevent forgetfulness. In 2009, a group of researchers from America and France noted that events in the brain that help consolidate memories called "sharp wave ripples" occur predominantly during the deepest levels of sleep.
These ripples are also responsible for the transfer of information that has been learned from the hippocampus to the area of the brain where long-term memories are stored – the neocortex of the brain.
4. Sleep deprivation affects your sexual life
Very few people know that there is any relationship between sex and sleep – two events that mostly happen in the bedroom. Yet, research shows that the better an individual's sleep hygiene, the better their sex life. The Journal of Sexual Medicine reported, for instance, that an additional hour of sleep per night might increase a woman's chances of having sexual relations with her partner by 14 per cent. Other side effects of lack of sleep, such as anxiety and depression also affect the libido and drive for sex in both men and women.
5. Lack of sleep negatively affects mental health
The absence of sleep, especially for an extended period, can severely impact an individual's mental and emotional state. Where it is just a night of no sleep, the effects are usually minor things like impatience and mood swings. However, where it has extended for a long time, it can lead to hallucinations – hearing, seeing and feeling things that are not there as though they were.
In addition, it can trigger mania in individuals who have a bipolar mood disorder. Other effects of sleep deprivation on the mental and psychological health of individuals include:
- Impulsive behaviour
- Severe Anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
What is the Cause of Sleep Deprivation?
Several factors contribute to sleep deprivation, including lifestyle choices, sleep hygiene, medical issues, work schedule, amongst several others. Many times, sleep deprivation is a conscious choice that individuals make for several reasons.
For instance, a person may choose to sleep late due to a TV show or work into the morning because of deadlines. Another example will be a shift worker who has to work through the night.
How to prevent and deal with sleep deprivation
Many times, the first thing to do is to recognise that sleep deprivation is not a good or "normal" thing that a coffee cup will help deal with. Since it is primarily a result of choice, people must consciously prioritise sleep and then create hygiene that facilitates quality sleep. The following tips can guarantee better sleep:
1. Before going to sleep, allow yourself 30-60 minutes without using any electronic devices. Tablets, phones, and laptops produce blue light, which disrupts sleep and may reduce melatonin production.
2. Don’t change the time you go to bed at night and get up each morning at a fixed time. You can strengthen your body's sleep cycle (your internal clock) by doing this.
3. Drink less alcohol. You may fall asleep more quickly when you drink alcohol. However, the effect wears off, disrupting sleep in the middle of the night.
4. The use of high-quality bedding, mattresses, and pillows also helps create an environment conducive to sleep so you can make your sleep convenient and relaxing.
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