What Happens to Your Body and Mind When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

November 21, 2017

Are you getting enough sleep? It’s recommended that most people get between 7-9 hours per night, but over a quarter of Canadians get less than 7. While there are some medical conditions like sleep apnea that can lead to poor sleep quality, the majority of sleep problems simply come from poor sleep habits. Lack of sleep can have a variety of negative side effects on the body and mind in both the short-term and the long-term.

Short-Term Consequences

Most short-term consequences of lack of sleep are related to poor concentration and focus in the brain.

  • Poor Coordination and Reaction Time – The grogginess caused by sleep deprivation can put people at increased risk of accidents due to poor coordination and reaction time. It’s estimated that fatigue is a factor in 21% of motor vehicle collisions, making it the third highest factor behind alcohol and speeding.
  • Irritability and Aggressiveness – Lack of sleep commonly causes increased levels of stress and irritability. This can make people easily annoyed, and more likely to lash out or get upset at small things. These outbursts can have negative impacts on personal and professional relationships.
  • Forgetfulness – During sleep, the brain forms neural connections that are used to save new information to memory. Without enough sleep, connections aren’t formed properly and memories don’t get consolidated. This can also interfere with the transfer of short-term memories to long-term storage.

Long-Term Consequences

Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to several negative health consequences throughout the body.

  • Weight Gain and Obesity – Sleep helps to regulate levels of ghrelin and leptin, which are hormones that control appetite and hunger. Ghrelin increases appetite and hunger levels, while leptin lets the body know that it’s had enough to eat. Lack of sleep has been shown to cause the brain to produce more ghrelin and decrease production of leptin. This makes the body feel hungrier, and makes it take more food for the body to feel satiated. In the long-term, this can lead to weight gain, and results in an increased risk of obesity.
  • Mental Health Issues – Disorders like depression and anxiety are commonly linked to lack of sleep. Poor sleep quality can make people more susceptible to these conditions, but it works the other way as well. People who suffer from these conditions are likely to experience poor sleep quality as a result. Insomniacs are even more at risk: they are 10 times more likely to have clinical depression and 17 times more likely to have clinical anxiety than people who don’t have insomnia.
  • Weakened Immune System – Chronic lack of sleep or sleep deprivation can disrupt the immune system and make it less effective at fighting off threats and illnesses. Studies have shown that people who sleep less than six hours a night are 4.2 times more likely to get a cold than those who sleep for more than seven hours. Without the necessary amount of sleep, it makes it more difficult for the immune system to fight off the viruses that are found in colds and other illnesses.
  • Poor Heart Health – There are a variety of issues related to the heart and blood vessels that are linked to lack of sleep. People who get less than recommended amount of sleep are at increased risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease. Additionally, conditions like heart attack and stroke have also been shown to be linked to poor sleep. It’s theorized that without adequate sleep, the body is not as effective at repairing damage done to the heart and blood vessels.
  • Risk of Diseases and Conditions Certain cancers such as colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer have been shown to be more prevalent in those who don’t get enough sleep. Those who suffer from sleep apnea are at an even greater risk. Lack of sleep can also lead to type 2 diabetes. People who don’t get enough sleep tend to have higher insulin resistance, which makes them prone to elevated glucose levels. Additionally, sleep quality has been shown to affect bone health, and poor-quality sleep can lead to a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Many people underestimate the impact that sleep quality has on their health. While some of the short-term effects may be obvious, the lesser-known long-term effects are the ones that can lead to serious health consequences. As the majority of sleep problems are caused by poor sleep habits, it’s especially important that people ensure they follow good sleep habits so they can stay healthier for longer.

Katie Stewart

Katie is a member of Welbi’s Customer Experience team! She has a background in communications and recreation and is passionate about older adults, exercise, coffee and people.

Holly Mathias

Holly is a member of Welbi’s Marketing team! She has a background in communications and marketing, and is a compassionate individual who loves team work, story telling, and wellness.

Wendy Riopelle

Wendy is a student in the Honours BA in English program at the University of Ottawa, where she has won numerous awards for her writing.

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