Sleep deprivation is so much a part of American culture that many people don’t even see it as a problem — and some people will actually brag about how little they can “get by” on. But the truth is that there are serious consequences to not getting enough zzzz’s at night: the Sleep Foundation notes that, each year, there are 100,000 car accidents, 76,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths that occur due to not getting enough rest.
Here are ten important things that can happen when you don’t get enough sleep:
1. Weight Gain
Multiple studies have shown a link between weight gain and lack of sleep. In one study, people who were sleep deprived ate 300 more calories a day than when they were able to get a full night’s sleep — and those 300 calories can add up over time. Also, lack of sleep causes the body to become stressed, which increases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that signals that body that it needs to put on fat.
2. Impaired Thought Processes
Most people realize that they tend to feel foggier or less able to concentrate if they have had a late night. This is because going without even one night’s sleep can decrease alertness and other mental processes by 32%; with one study even finding that over a lifetime, the brains of those who are chronically sleep-deprived become smaller and less dense, affecting many important mental processes.
3. Emotional Problems
Again, most people can tell that they feel crankier if they have been up late the night before. And multiple studies have backed this up, showing a link between sleep deprivation and less emotional control and the ability to cope with stress. If it goes on long enough, sleep deprivation can even cause problems like depression.
4. Poor Memory
Sleep deprivation can also affect your ability to remember even very simple things — like where you left your keys or checkbook! Studies have shown that the REM waves which people experience when they get a good night’s sleep help to boost memory and other mental functions; without a normal amount of sleep, however, these REM cycles don’t occur.
5. Decreased Immune System
When you do not get enough sleep, none of your body’s systems function well — and this includes your immune system. Because of this, if you are sleep-deprived, it will make you more vulnerable to everyday infections like the flu or the common cold. This can greatly decrease your quality of life and lead to missed work and other similar problems.
6. Decreased Sex Drive
Several studies have also linked a long-term lack of sleep with a decreased libido. This is because of several factors, including hormonal changes that occur in the body when it does not catch enough zzzz’s and because of the lack of energy that most people feel when they have simply not gotten enough rest.
7. Decreased Longevity
A long, healthy life is probably at the top of most people’s wish list — but chronic sleep deprivation can stop this from happening. In one study, it was shown that women who got less than five hours of sleep per night over a lifetime were less likely to live as long as women who got adequate rest. This is probably due to the chronic stress that sleep deprivation puts on the body.
8. Heart Disease
Because of the link between sleep deprivation and weight gain and because not getting enough rest can also raise blood pressure levels, lack of sleep can also be a contributing factor to heart disease, which is still the number one killer for both men and women in the United States (and in many countries around the world).
9. Injuries and Accidents
The statistics quoted from the Sleep Foundation in regards to accidents and injuries are due to the fact that when people are less likely to focus, concentrate or pay attention, they are more likely to make mistakes that lead to things like accidents while driving or performing job-related activities.
10. Chronic Disease
Because of the chronic stress and associated compromising effects on the immune system of sleep deprivation, it can lead to a number of chronic diseases, and studies have linked it not only to heart disease but to strokes, obesity and mental health problems among other chronic conditions.
Avoiding Sleep Deprivation
The consequences of sleep deprivation are severe — but the good news is, there are simple ways that you can make sure that you avoid it and give your body the rest it needs to stay healthy. These include:
- Planning on getting 7-8 hours of sleep most nights.
- Trying to get to sleep and get up around the same time each day.
- Keeping your sleep environment cool, dark and quiet.
- Taking a warm bath or shower before bed to relax the muscles.
- Keeping TV/electronic devices out of the bedroom.
- Scheduling an hour or so of a quiet activity to relax before going to sleep.
- Avoiding caffeine, sugar and heavy meals before sleep.
So don’t try to skip out on your sleep tonight! Although it may seem difficult on a daily basis to get enough shut-eye, in the long run, it is worth it for both your happiness and your health.