5 Things That Happen When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep – Prevention.com

Posted: December 1, 2020 at 8:53 pm

Even before the pandemic, more than a third of Americans werent getting the recommended seven plus hours of nightly sleep that industry professionals recommend. Add the stress of everyones new reality, and, by certain estimates, 68% of Americans say they just arent getting enough rest.

While youre probably aware of some of the issues, like mental fog, that can arise when you don't get enough rest, you may not be aware that your snoozing habits may impact all sorts of unexpected thingsthink: how well your heart pumps blood, and even your sex drive.

Most of the systems in our body are predicated on some process of renewal or need for sleep, explains board-certified sleep medicine researcher W. Christopher Winter, MD, the author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It. Sleep is a fundamental aspect of our thinking, our ability to function, and our immune system. It impacts pretty much everything we need to survive.

So turn off your phone, close the shades, and hop into bed early tonight. If you dont, heres how a lack of sleep may impact your body.

Theres a very strong link between sleep and the immune system in general, says Michael Awad, MD, chief of sleep surgery at Northwestern Medicine and chief medical officer of Peak Sleep. The body repairs just about every cell in the body when it comes to sleep. Sleep deprivation lowers the bodys ability to mount an immune response.

Sleep loss is linked to a higher risk of infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One study published in JAMA found that restricting a persons sleep for four hours a night for six days, followed by sleeping 12 hours a night for seven days, can lead to a greater than 50% decrease in the production of antibodies to a flu vaccine. Basically, your body just cant mount the usual immune response when youre wiped out.

Lack of sleep can also lower your immune systems ability to fight tumor cells and lead to the generation of inflammatory cytokines. These proteins are secreted by the immune system and can cause the development of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders.

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One study of nearly 117,000 people published in the European Heart Journal found that people who slept less than six hours a night were at a greater risk of developing heart disease than their well-rested counterparts. And getting irregular sleepthat is, having no consistent bedtime and wake timecan raise your risk of having some kind of cardiovascular event, including stroke, congestive heart failure, and coronary heart disease, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

There are a tremendous number of mechanisms at play here, Dr. Winter says. When you are sleep deprived or have fragmented sleep, your blood vessels lose, to some extent, the ability to expand and contract to regulate things, he says. People also tend to be at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure when they dont get enough sleep, Winter says, which can be tough on your heart.

Sleep deprivation can also increase cholesterol levels and general inflammation throughout your body, leading to the formation of plaque in the blood vessels, Dr. Awad says. When blood vessels start to form plaque, the heart has to work harder, he explains.

There are a lot of reasons for this, Dr. Winter says. When youre fatigued, your brain prioritizes getting sleep over other things, he says. But Dr. Winters says other chemicals that are important for sexual performance and arousal, such as oxytocin, can be lowered by sleep deprivation.

One study in JAMA restricted 10 men's sleep for a week and found that the levels of the sex hormone testosterone in their bodies decreased by up to 15%. (Testosterone is a hormone that can fuel a person's sex drive.) The reverse is also true: Another study published in JAMA found that people who got more sleep than usual were more likely to have sex the next day. Meaning, if you hit the hay earlier, you just might be up for a little something extra.

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There are a few reasons for this. One is that people tend to make bad eating decisions when theyre tired, Dr. Winter says. People are also typically more sedentary and less likely to work out when theyre tired, which also can lead to weight gain, he says.

Research published in the journal Sleep found that people with restricted sleep had altered levels of endocannabinoids, one of the chemical signals that affect appetite, and the brains reward system. The researchers also discovered that when people were sleep-deprived, they ate more and unhealthier snacks between meals, at the same time that endocannabinoid levels were at their highest.

Older research has also found that women who get less sleep tend to weigh more than their better-rested counterparts, likely for the reasons above, Dr. Winter says.

Theres a direct correlation between lack of sleep and diabetes, Dr. Awad says. Its due to your bodys ability to regulate insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas that controls your blood sugar, he says. Lack of sleep reduces the production of insulin from the pancreas and decreases gluten tolerance, Dr. Awad says. Cells are then less effective at using insulin, and that can lead to the development of diabetes.

To be clear: Sleep deprivation isnt cited by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) as a potential cause of diabetes, but insulin resistancewhich can be caused by lack of sleepis.

How to finally get more shut-eye

If youre struggling with sleep, Dr. Winter recommends first trying to prioritize rest and practicing good sleep hygiene. That includes the following, per the CDC:

If these tried-and-tested tips dont help, Dr. Awad says its a good idea to talk to your doctor about what else you can do to get the rest your body needs.

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5 Things That Happen When You Don't Get Enough Sleep - Prevention.com

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