5 Ways That Not Getting Enough Sleep Impacts Your Health

Posted on November 3, 2021

5 Ways That Not Getting Enough Sleep Impacts Your Health

Although there is no concrete evidence for why we sleep, there are a number of theories around what happens whilst we are asleep. Primarily, during sleep the body performs many restorative functions: repairing muscle tissue, reorganising nerve cells, restoring energy, lowering metabolism, and releasing hormones. Many scientists believing that even dreams perform a similar function- reorganising the events of the day and storing them in long term memory. Although this is not confirmed.

As you can imagine, therefore, when we don’t meet our daily requirement of sleep and building up what is known as ‘sleep debt’, it can have a noticeable impact on our health by interrupting biological processes. With research suggesting for every hour of sleep you lose; it can take up to 4 days to recover.[1] Which is why after a sleepless night you might find it harder to concentrate and stay focused. There are also several ways that long-term sleep debt can have on the body that are less easy to see.

  1. Immune Health

When you are lacking on sleep, it is common to feel run-down and not quite up to form. This may be a result of sleep’s impact on our immunity. Not getting enough sleep can make us more likely to get sick as our immune system is weakened and less able to fight off illnesses like colds and flus.

Also, because of the restorative capacity of sleep, getting extra sleep when you are ill can also help to speed up recovery. This is most likely why we feel more tired when we are sick.

  1. Weight Gain

The impact of sleep debt on your weight is threefold.

Firstly, when we don’t get enough sleep, the body overproduces hormones that are responsible for hunger (ghrelin) and underproduces those which makes us feel satiated or full (leptin). This creates the perfect environment for over-indulgence which could lead to weight gain over time.[2]

Secondly, sleep loss can make you more prone to developing type-2 Diabetes, by causing cells to become resistant to insulin.[3] The body’s response to insulin is one of the key factors in the development of diabetes and is responsible for increased appetite and fat storage. Lack of sleep can cause your blood glucose levels to raise since it also triggers an increase in cortisol (stress hormone) production. [4]

Finally, when we are low on sleep, we are more likely to go for convenient and highly processed foods that are easy grab, quick to make and often high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat. This gives the short burst of energy that our body craves.

  1. Heart Health

As we enter ‘energy-saver-mode’ when we sleep our body does a lot of things to conserve energy, such as lowering your metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure. All of which have a positive impact on the health of your heart. When we get less sleep than we need, these processes can’t take place as effectively and can cause long-term issues.

Again, the production of cortisol comes into play, as this also increases your heart rate and blood pressure, putting more strain on the heart and cardiovascular system.[5]

  1. Mood

In the short term, getting less sleep than you need can make you feel irritable and frustrated and therefore more likely to overreact.

Having less sleep consistently, raises your chances of having depression or anxiety more than tenfold.[6] We are not sure why exactly this is; however, some scientists have suggested it may be due to a link between sleep and brain activity. One study found that whilst we sleep, the areas in the brain responsible for emotion are highly active.[7]

Lack of sleep can also trigger the body to produce more cortisol, which can increase feelings of anxiety or stress.

  1. Sexual Health

Studies have linked sleep deprivation with a reduce in sexual arousal in women[8] and an increase in erectile dysfunction in men.[9] The reason behind this is not completely understood but there is evidence to suggest that there is a link between disruption to circadian rhythm and decreased libido.

This could be because of sleep’s impact on the production of reproductive hormones. These reproductive hormones are regulated by the same part of the brain that regulates your sleep-wake hormones like melatonin, which suggests a close link between the two. As mentioned earlier, lack of sleep can cause the body to release an excess of cortisol, the stress hormone, which may disturb levels of testosterone and oestrogen and cause a decrease in libido.

As well as impacting libido, the influence of this de-regulation also has a detrimental effect on our reproductive health. Potentially triggering ovulation in women and disturbing their usual reproductive cycle, making ovulation unpredictable, and potentially interfering with the sperm maturation process in men, again leading to fertility issues. [10]

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27775095/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535701/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3767932/

[4] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037#:~:text=Cortisol%2C%20the%20primary%20stress%20hormone,fight%2Dor%2Dflight%20situation.

[5] https://www.premierhealth.com/your-health/articles/women-wisdom-wellness-/beware-high-levels-of-cortisol-the-stress-hormone

[6] https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/poor-sleep-affects-health

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4286245/

[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25772315/

[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32257858/

[10] https://www.carolinasfertilityinstitute.com/can-lack-sleep-affect-fertility/