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What happens to your body when you don’t sleep

By Rachael Attard, Updated Apr 27, 2021

Our lives are so busy now. We have relationships to maintain, classes to attend, children to care for, work, or even all of the above. Squeezing all that into one schedule can be challenging, and sometimes late nights and early mornings inevitably occur.

But skipping out on a good night of sleep, especially if you do so often, can be detrimental for your mental and physical health. Sleep is an important part of any healthy lifestyle!

How Many Hours of Sleep Should You Normally Get a Night?

Most people need about 8 hours of sleep per night to function normally. Some people might need a little more or a little less, which is why most medical professionals recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night. For example, teenagers tend to need a little more sleep than this, which is why they should aim for 8-10 hours every night.

However, everybody has different needs. Genetics, health conditions, and other factors can influence how much sleep you need. If you consistently feel tired throughout the day, try sleeping for longer to see if that helps.

Sleep quality also plays a role. Poor sleep quality can affect your body negatively. If you don’t sleep well and you don’t know why, consider talking to your doctor. Several medical conditions can affect sleep quality, and your doctor should be able to help you figure out how to address your unique situation.

How Does Not Sleeping Affect Your Body?

Not getting enough sleep impacts essential bodily functions, makes you feel grumpy, and slows down your thinking. Here are the details:

LACK OF SLEEP CAN AFFECT YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH

lack of sleep can affect physical health

Not getting enough sleep is hard on your body and prevents it from maintaining good health. It increases your risk of infection, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Increased Risk of Infection

When you sleep, your immune system is hard at work producing substances that help fight infection, such as antibodies and cytokines. These substances help your body fight bacteria and viruses — everything from the common cold to strep throat.

Not getting enough sleep means that your immune system doesn’t have the time it needs to produce such substances. Your immune system weakens, and you become more likely to get sick. Your body also struggles to fight off infection quickly once you do become ill.

RELATED POST: How to Boost Your Immune System

Increased Risk of Cancer

Some studies have shown that people with sleep disorders are at an increased risk of cancer. Not getting enough sleep means that your body loses its natural body rhythms. Sleep deprivation also disturbs your body’s immune-stimulating hormones, lowering your protection against types of cancer such as colorectal and breast cancer.

Increased Risk of Heart Disease

When you sleep, your blood pressure naturally goes down. Consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night means that your blood pressure stays higher for longer, according to the Center for Disease Control.

High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Sleep also helps your body heal your body’s blood vessels and heart.

Increased Risk of Diabetes

Sleep deprivation and diabetes are closely related. Not getting enough sleep almost triples your chance of having diabetes.

Sleep helps your body tolerate glucose and release the correct amount of insulin into your bloodstream after you eat. A lack of sleep disrupts your body’s ability to regulate these processes, and it can contribute to diabetes.

lack of sleep effects

Lack of Sleep Can Cause Weight Gain

Not getting enough sleep is connected to increased hunger, craving for sugary carbs and high-fat foods, and increased fat storage.

Sleep helps control hormones and the peptides that regulate hunger. Less sleep is associated with decreases in leptin, the peptide that helps tell your body when you are full, and increases in ghrelin, the peptide that tells you are hungry.

Studies show that people who sleep 5 hours or less are more likely to gain weight and become obese than people who sleep 7-8 hours every night.

RELATED POST: Leptin Resistance – Are You Resistant to Weight Loss

Lack of Sleep Can Affect Your Mental Health

Lack of sleep is associated with mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric condition. In fact, people with depression and anxiety are more likely to get less than six hours of sleep per night. And people with insomnia are five times more likely to get depressed than those without it.

Sleep also helps you regulate your emotions. Without enough sleep, you might notice that you are moodier than normal, and a lack of sleep can trigger mania in people with bipolar disorder.

Plus, if you already struggle with your mental health, lack of sleep will only make your symptoms worse. Following a consistent sleep schedule of about 7-9 hours of sleep per night can help some people who suffer from mental health problems.

RELATED POST: The Effects of Constant Stress on Your Body

Lack of Sleep Can Affect Your Memory

Deep sleep helps you store long-term memories. When you are sleeping deeply, your brain experiences an event called, “sharp wave ripples.” These ripples help transfer your memories from the hippocampus to the neocortex of your brain, where memories are stored. Deep sleep is essential to forming long-lasting memories.

Feeling tired also makes it harder to focus or retain short-term memories. When you’re sleepy, you’re more likely to misplace your wallet or forget your cell phone.

Lack of Sleep Can Affect Your Concentration

Not getting enough sleep can affect your memory, ability to make decisions, reasoning, and ability to solve problems. In other words, a lack of sleep means you don’t think as well as you could.

Why is this? When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain gets tired. It isn’t able to perform as quickly or effectively as it does normally. Your brain becomes slower, and it is harder for it to send signals to your body.

Lack of Sleep Can Make You More Prone to Accidents

Did you know that driving when drowsy can slow your reaction time as much as driving when drunk? National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about 20% of accidents in the USA are due to people driving while tired.

Getting enough sleep is part of keeping you and those around you safe! Studies show that people who feel tired are more likely to cause accidents at work, hurting themselves and possibly their coworkers.

How to Have a Healthy Sleep Schedule

how to have a healthy sleep schedule

Sleep is obviously so important! But that doesn’t mean it is easy to get enough high-quality hours of sleep each night. :)

Getting enough sleep is a priority for me, and these are some things that help:

Go to Sleep at the Same Time Every Day

Going to bed at the same time every night helps your body stay on track. Over time, your body will learn that it needs to start adjusting to sleep, and you’ll be able to transition to sleep easier.

Similarly, I find that it is really helpful to try to get up at the same time every morning. I know, I know, sleeping in on the weekends can be such a treat. :) But sleeping in over the weekends makes it harder for me to fall asleep during the week!

Trying to keep a consistent sleep schedule isn’t easy. Now with a baby, it’s always hard for me to sleep at the same time. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it right away, just try your best!

Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine

We all know that caffeine makes us more energized. That’s why you should try to avoid it in the afternoon and evenings. In fact, some people will do better if they eliminate caffeine altogether. If giving up coffee seems too difficult, you can also try reducing your caffeine intake to just one cup in the morning to see if that helps your sleep. :)

Alcohol often makes people sleepy and helps put them to sleep. However, alcohol also leads to worse sleep quality at night. After the effects of alcohol wear off in the night, people typically end up tossing and turning the rest of their sleep. Eliminating alcohol is best for your sleep. However, if you choose to drink it, try to do so several hours before your bedtime.

Finally, nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant. It raises your heart rate and speeds up your thinking. Avoiding nicotine altogether is best for your body (and your chances of having a good sleep!).

RELATED POST: Is Coffee Good for You and Can It Help with Weight Loss

Avoid Electronics

I like to try to put away my phone and other electronics about one hour before bed. Electronics are built to keep us engaged and our minds active, which means it can be hard to truly relax when we are using them.

Also, the bright lights on these devices suppress melatonin and confuse your brain into thinking it is earlier than it is. Try putting away your phone and relaxing in a dimmed room instead. :)

Try to Relax Before Bed

Help your body adjust from a busy day to a good sleep by taking some intentional time to relax before bed. Everybody is different, so pick a routine that works for you. Some people like to:

  • Read a book in bed before they go to sleep
  • Meditate
  • Do gentle stretches in their pajamas
  • Listen to calming music
  • Practice deep breathing exercises

Be Active

Staying active will help you get to sleep and stay asleep. Exercise helps regulate your body’s temperature while your sleep, and it encourages your body to recuperate during the night.

Getting about 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise every week is associated with a 65% improvement in sleep quality!

See a Doctor

Sleep matters a lot. If you consistently struggle to get a good night of sleep, you should see a doctor. It is worth it!

Several medical conditions can impact the body’s ability to sleep, and a medical professional will be able to help diagnose and treat you.

Everybody has different needs when it comes to sleep. But, no matter who you are, getting enough sleep is essential to feeling healthy and looking your best!

Do you have any tips for getting a good night of sleep? Feel free to share in the comments! :)

Love Rachael Xx

Picture of Rachael

Rachael is an Australian born certified personal trainer and nutritionist who holds a Bachelor degree in Science.

After struggling for years to find an exercise and diet program that is tailored to women striving for lean and toned body with no bulk she designed her Lean Legs Program. This program is tailored to each body type and focused on helping women get toned but feminine bodies, without getting bulky.

Her mission is to empower women and help them stay in shape in a healthy and balanced way.

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