Ask any adult to list the top five things lacking in their life right now and there is a good chance that sleep will be at the top of the list. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is something most of us are all too familiar with. And while we know that getting a good night’s rest is important for our health, few of us find enough hours in the day to get at least eight hours of uninterrupted shut-eye.
SO WHAT EFFECT DOES THIS HAVE ON OUR HEALTH?
Besides the hilarious or slightly more embarrassing moments of losing your keys only to find that they are in your hand or leaving the house in your slippers, research shows that chronic lack of sleep can have more serious side effects such as:
Increased accidents and injuries
Decreased mental alertness, concentration, reasoning and problem solving
Decreased immune function
Increased risk of chronic disease
SLEEP LOSS: SHORT-TERM VS. LONG-TERM EFFECTS
Because sleep loss is so commonplace, we have become adept at functioning in a tired state. With coffee and energy drink consumption at a record high, it seems as though we have found a quick fix for our daily run-ins with brain fog and forgetfulness. Success? I think not.
Though minimizing these relatively minor side effects might increase your productivity short-term, the less visible consequences of sleep loss are far more detrimental to your health and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here is why:
WHAT’S HAPPENING INSIDE YOUR BODY?
Increased Oxidative Stress
As noted above, sleep is a time for your body to repair damage caused by external and internal stressors, to recharge, and to regulate its internal systems. Without adequate sleep, we get a build-up of free radicals which damage the cells and tissues of the body. This cellular damage will likely go unnoticed for some time; however, long-term exposure to excessive free radicals has the potential to cause permanent damage to your health.
Decreased Brain Function
Ever wonder what goes on in your brain during sleep? More than you can imagine! It is working hard to process the day’s events. From creating and consolidating memories to forming neural connections and integrating complex information, your brain is anything but inactive during those non-waking hours.
And not only is your brain working to create a scaffold for your knowledge, it is also busy clearing out toxins that have accumulated from exposure to the stresses of everyday life. So, by skipping out on hours of precious sleep, you are preventing your brain from performing these important housekeeping tasks that keep it functioning at an optimal level.
Did you know that sleep deprivation can result in a significant alteration in metabolic and endocrine function? If you knew that this could affect your ability to maintain a healthy weight or increase your risk of chronic disease, would you make sleep a higher priority? I sure hope so!
HOW DOES SLEEP LOSS AFFECT YOUR HORMONES?
During waking hours, your body releases hormones vital to the maintenance of homeostasis. These hormones include cortisol, adrenaline, and glucagon—all of which work to regulate the following functions:
Cardiovascular and central nervous system function
When we sleep, levels of these hormones drop and our body starts to release a set of hormones (e.g., human growth hormone) that are involved in growth and repair processes. Without adequate sleep, we are exposed to higher and prolonged levels of hormones like cortisol which has been shown to have widespread negative effects on the body. These effects include (but are not limited to):
Increased muscle protein breakdown
Elevated blood pressure
Lowered immune function
Additionally, hormones regulating appetite are profoundly influenced by sleep duration. Sleep restriction is associated with reductions in leptin (appetite suppressant) and elevations in ghrelin (appetite stimulation). This results in increased feelings of hunger and, in the face of abundant food, likely leads to overeating.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE MANY THAT SUFFERS FROM HOURS OF LOST SLEEP?