Sleep is crucial to health, but so many people, especially college students, operate on very little sleep. We get it — everyday life can be demanding, and with dozens of obligations from school to family life, there’s little time left to hit the snooze button. Without a good night’s rest, we risk opening the floodgates to a host of other health problems. So, what happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
Here are five ways lack of sleep affects your health:
- Your immune system weakens
Lack of sleep can make you vulnerable to illnesses and it can also lessen your body’s ability to fight them off. While you sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, which act as chemical messengers. Production of cytokines increases when your body is fighting an infection, inflammation and even when you are stressed; lack of sleep will decrease the production of these cytokines.
Fewer cytokines = weaker immune system
- You’re at a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases
The American Sleep Association describes sleep deprivation as the cumulative effect of a person not having sufficient sleep or not obtaining adequate total sleep. Those who suffer from sleep deprivation have higher levels of stress hormones, as well as higher levels of C-reactive protein, or CRP— a protein released when you are stressed or have inflammation. High levels of stress and excessive CRP can lead to the development of cardiovascular diseases. Other risks that are linked to cardiovascular diseases include obesity, diabetes, and coronary artery disease.
No sleep = potential cardiovascular disease
- You gain weight
Insufficient sleep impacts two hormones: ghrelin and leptin.
The ghrelin hormone tells your brain it is time to eat, and lack of sleep can overproduce this hormone. On the other hand, the leptin hormone tells your brain to stop eating. When don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels go up, telling you to eat more food.
High levels of ghrelin + low levels of leptin = extra pounds
- You’re at risk for diabetes
Sleep deprivation can put your body in a pre-diabetic state. Diabetes can occur when the body is not producing enough insulin. Insulin converts glucose into energy, and lack of sleep disrupts the production of insulin. When this happens, high blood sugar levels are present, and this can harm your nerves, kidneys, eyes, and heart.
Sleep deprivation = pre-diabetic state
- You become forgetful.
Numerous accounts from research have proven that sleep can impact your learning and memory skills. Sleep is critical to lock in what you’ve learned during the day. Studies have shown that lack of sleep can impair your problem-solving and decision-making skills, reaction time, alertness, and ultimately your memory.
No sleep = loss of memory
To recap, it is important to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you do feel like taking a nap during the day, the best time to do so is between noon and to 3 p.m.—right after lunch. Limit yourself to no more than 30 minutes so that your body won’t enter deep, or REM, sleep; therefore, not disrupting your body’s natural sleep schedule.
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Harvard Health Publishing. “A Good Night’s Sleep: Advice to Take to Heart – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health Blog, Sept. 2017, www.health.harvard.edu.
Klok, M D, et al. “The Role of Leptin and Ghrelin in the Regulation of Food Intake and Body Weight in Humans: a Review.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8 Jan. 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Olsen, Eric J. “Can Lack of Sleep Make You Sick?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 9 June 2015, www.mayoclinic.org.
“Sleep Deprivation – Research & Treatments.” American Sleep Association, www.sleepassociation.org.
“Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov.