We live in a world where it’s hard to switch off. We have smartphones by our beds, tablets for bedtime reading material and access to perennial TV and electronic entertainment. This is a big cause of the reduction in the amount we are sleeping. Our need for it however hasn’t reduced at all.
Sleep is so important for us because it’s when so many physiological processes occur and is vital for our long-term health and regeneration.
So, what happens when we don’t get enough sleep?
It messes with your appetite
Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can cause obesity . When we’re sleep deprived, Leptin, the hormone that suppresses our appetite, is lowered and Ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger, is increased. This makes us more likely to overeat. More than 71 studies have come to the conclusion that short sleep duration is associated with the development of obesity in children and young adults.
It messes with your mind
While most people are aware that lack of sleep impairs our mental performance, they may underestimate its long term effects on our brain. During our waking hours, free radicals are accumulated. When we sleep the body removes them to ensure minimal damage to the brain’s nerve cells. Sleep is essentially the brain’s antioxidant! So constantly being sleep deprived causes our brains to age faster.
Penn Medicine researchers showed that chronic sleep loss may lead to irreversible damage to and loss of brain cells.
It messes with your heart
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can result in increased blood pressure and other heart related diseases such as strokes and diabetes. Whilst it hasn’t been proven as a direct cause, it is certainly linked with the increase of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) which is an indicator of inflammation in the body and inflammation has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
It messes with your skin
When we miss out on sleep, two things can happen that are not good news for our skin. Firstly, sleep deprivation increases the stress hormone cortisol which can break down collagen, the protein that keeps our skin firm and elastic. Secondly we miss out on a boost of growth hormones (sometimes called the ‘anti-ageing hormone’) which are vital for tissue regeneration. So basically the hit is more stress combined with less repair leading to wrinkles, fine lines and dull skin.
It messes with your immunity
A lack of sleep weakens our immune system. It alters the amount of immune cells circulating in the body making it less able to defend itself against viruses and bacteria. In addition, the inflammation that occurs as a result of sleep deprivation can impede overall immune system function putting you at risk of infection and disease.
A study by the FASEB Journal produced data that indicated that even modest disturbance of sleep reduces our natural immune responses.
So, whilst we can’t control all potential disturbances and delays to our sleep, we can certainly log off and switch off when it’s time to nod off.
It's not worth losing sleep over.