5 ways that sleep deprivation can affect your health

5 Ways That Sleep Deprivation Can Affect Your Health

Sep 01, 2020
On the surface, sleep deprivation may seem like the kind of thing that can wait until you “have more time”, but its negative impacts are more significant than you might imagine. Not only will cutting corners on sleep leave you feeling groggy, but the compounding effects on your body’s respective systems can be a true challenge to undo. Sleep is at the core of a balanced routine, but it is fundamental to your overall health and has a real effect on your quality of life. It’s when your brain makes new connections and your memory cements itself. And while the “right amount of sleep” can differ from person to person, the facts are the facts: your body needs quality rest. Have you heard of sleep deprivation? Basically, it means you aren’t getting enough sleep…and many Canadians are suffering from it. In fact, Stats Canada says:

1 in 4 adults aged 18-34, 1 in 3 adults aged 35-64 and 1 in 4 adults 65-79 are not getting enough sleep.

This a problem. Your body uses the time you sleep to heal and restore itself. Think of your computer: you charge it at night to use in the day, and you would never expect it to run quickly without having given it a good rest and reboot. This, in theory, is also how your body works. You might be thinking: “but wait, there’s coffee!” – but you’d be wrong. Caffeine is not a remedy for lack of sleep and can actually make things worse (see: insomnia). Here’s *exactly* what sleep deprivation does to your body’s systems.

It can be hard to make decisions

Your central nervous system is your body’s information highway. It consists of your brain and spinal cord, and controls many of your bodily functions (think awareness, movement, sensations, thought, speech and memory). Sleep allows your body to form neural pathways that help you remember things, so without it, your brain might feel too tired to perform its duties to the same degree it would if you slept enough. It ultimately disrupts your ability to take authority over the way you show up for the world.

A lack of restful sleep can also shrink your mental aptitude and cripple your ability to soundly process emotion. That’s why when you skimp, you might notice yourself to be moodier and less patient. Furthermore, missing out on rest can also take reign on your capacity to make decisions, your ability to reach into your creativity and could lead to hallucinations or mania in those suffering from bipolar mood disorder.

You may get sicker faster

While you sleep, your immune system creates protective, infection-fighting entities called antibodies and cytokines. These guys keep you healthy and stand on guard against viruses and bacteria. Certain cytokines also help you sleep, making your immune system more efficient in defending you against bad bacteria. Sleep deprivation weakens your immunity since you don’t give your body the opportunity to recoup.

It can make sleep…noisy.

Sleep and respiration move breath in breath, but lack of sleep can cause breathing problems. Research has looked at the negative effects of sleep deprivation on blood vessels and breathing control, and it turns out that reducing restful sleep for any more than 2 consecutive nights can lead to impaired vascular function and breathing control. This could play a role in diseases like sleep apnea, which is also linked to cardiovascular disease.

You might feel hungrier
Lack of sleep affects your leptin and ghrelin levels, the two hormones responsible for appetite regulation. Leptin tells you when you’ve had enough, and ghrelin tells you when you need more. When you don’t sleep enough, your body goes into storage mode and asks your brain to reduce its leptin output and increase ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite. This can lead to overeating, which can make you too tired to work out and may lower your body’s glucose tolerance, making it more insulin resistant (enter diabetes mellitus and obesity).

It can affect your heart

Sleep plays a huge role in your body’s ability to heal and repair blood vessels, and ultimately, the health of your heart. Both your blood pressure and heart rates change during sleep, and in the few hours before you wake, there is an increase in both. This why many heart attacks are likely to occur in the early mornings, or soon after waking up[1]. Obstructed sleep is closely associated to these, with heart arrhythmias often affected by an unbalanced circadian rhythm, which is your body’s sleep and wakefulness cycle. The obstruction (see: sleep apnea) or reduction (see: sleep deprivation) of quality sleep can lead to cardiac events you may not be able to come back from.

To sum it up, adequate, restful sleep is at the core of better health. Got time for some quick tidbits? Here’s how to get back on track:

  • Commit to a routine: A key component to regular, restful sleep is a regular, balanced schedule. Try to keep bedtime around the same hour for best results.
  • Second guess your pre-bed rituals: When it comes to restful sleep, the last thing you want are images of what’s on the news haunting you into dreamland. Put the paper down before bed and opt for a soothing playlist if you need it. Additionally, blue light has been reported as incredibly disruptive to your sleep cycle. To score your best chances into restful sleep, keep the devices out of reach.
  • Don’t be afraid to get some assistance
    When all else fails and you need an extra hand, it might be worth considering a supplement like this one. Safe and non-habit forming, it will help you get to sleep faster (and stay asleep longer).


[1]  Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research, Colten HR and Altevogt BM (ed.), Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem, Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2006.

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