What Happens to Your Body When You Lose Sleep

Woman Sleeping

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), approximately 1 in 3 American adults aren’t getting enough sleep. Regular lack of sleep can leave you with more than just a bad mood in the morning. Sleep deprivation can put you at risk of a variety of ailments and diseases, and long-term lack of sleep can have some serious consequences on both your physical and mental health.

How much sleep do we need?

Most people need around 8 hours of sleep to function properly.  According to The National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 18-64 should be getting between 7-9 hours of sleep every night. For teenagers (ages 14-17), the recommendation is between 8-10 hours of sleep every night. This being said, every person is different and both environmental and behavioral factors can impact how much sleep you need each night.

Short-term effects of lack of sleep 

Not getting enough sleep now and then can impact you in many ways. Some short-term impacts on your health can include:

Low immune system 

Too little sleep weakens your immune system’s defense against viruses that cause the flu and the common cold. According to The Sleep Foundation, sleep and your immune system have a bidirectional relationship. Sleep provides essential support to the immune system, and at the same time, your immune response can affect your sleep. Getting an adequate amount of high-quality sleep enables a strong immune defense against viruses. 

Impaired memory

Lack of sleep can impact your ability to think, retain, and process information. Memory consolidation takes place during both the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) stages of your sleep cycle. While you’re sleeping, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain organizes deep thoughts while you’re sleeping and consolidates memories. If you’re unable to get quality sleep, your short-term memory may be impacted.

Lack of alertness

Similar to impaired memory, lack of sleep can affect your cognitive function by making you less aware and alert. Brain function, such as alertness and reaction time, worsen with less sleep. According to a 2018 study, people who get 6 hours of sleep or less each night have a greater risk of getting into a car accident than those who sleep 7 to 10 hours. 

Increased stress

Lack of sleep can take a toll on your emotional and mental state. Too little sleep can cause your body to react in distress. When this happens, your body releases more of the stress hormone called cortisol. 

Long-term effects of lack of sleep 

If you continue to not get enough sleep, you can be at risk of more long-term and serious health issues. Some of the most serious long-term impacts of too little sleep can include: high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and depression. Long-term lack of sleep can also affect your skin and overall appearance by increasing dark circles under your eyes while also causing premature wrinkling.

How can I sleep more?

Getting enough hours of quality sleep is important. Try some of these tips so you can sleep better at night:

  • Avoid looking at bright screens (phones, TVs, computers, etc) before bed.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed.
  • Don’t consume caffeine too late in the day.
  • Exercise more during the day.
  • Craft a pre-bedtime routine

The bottom line 

Getting enough good quality sleep is really important. If you don’t get enough sleep, you can be at risk of developing many short-term and long-term health conditions. 

It can take several weeks to get back on a healthy sleep schedule. If you have any questions about your sleep schedule, reach out to your doctor to see if one of our 3,500 diagnostic tests could help you and your sleep health.

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