What Happens to Your Brain and Body When You Lack Sleep

December 13, 2020

You’re busy, stressed, and try as you might, you can’t shut off your brain when your head hits the pillow. Here it comes – living another day with a lack of sleep tomorrow. You overuse your Starbucks’ frequent flyer card and daydream about your comfy bed during your way-too-long team meeting at work. You feel like you could fall asleep at any second. But then, you go home to your bed just to start the cycle all over again.

It’s maddening. And it’s wreaking havoc on your brain and body.

Sleep deprivation is a common and serious problem in adults. You know you’re supposed to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but do you know what happens when you don’t get enough sleep? I mean, besides being snippy with your family and applying an excessive amount of concealer to the dark bags under your eyes?

Infographic of a woman yawning. It says,

 

A lacke of sleep has some side effects on your brain and body that might alarm you.

Lack of Sleep Compromises Your Immune System

While you sleep, your body is working to build up your innate and adaptive immunities. During your trip to la-la land, your immune system releases cytokines. No, these aren’t some alien lifeform from Star Trek. They are proteins you need to help you fight inflammation and infection.

Sleep deprivation decreases your body’s ability to release cytokines and antibodies to help you fight infection. That means not getting enough sleep makes you more susceptible to viruses and infectious diseases.

While sleeping, your body also produces natural killer cells. They sound ominious, but they are actually critical cancer-fighting immune cells. After getting one bad night’s sleep, where you only sleep four to five hours, your body produces 70% less of these cells. That means when you live a sleep-deprived life, you’re putting yourself at a higher risk for cancer.

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Sleep Deprivation Impairs Your Memory

Throughout the different phases of the sleep cycle, your brain works to turn new information into memories. Research shows nerve endings that create memories in your brain are strengthened during sleep. These nerve endings create short-term memories. No sleep means a poor short-term memory.

Lack of sleep makes you forget things, like where you put your keys (I just had them!) and the fact that you were supposed to meet your friend for lunch. Your inability to concentrate and focus on mundane tasks makes it nearly impossible for your brain to commit them to short-term, and eventually, long-term memory.

Lack of Sleep Leads to Slow Reaction Time

You wouldn’t drive a car after drinking, right? (Say RIGHT.) Would you believe drowsiness due to sleep deprivation can be just as dangerous?

 

Picture of a car crashed into a tree. It says Driving While Sleepy = a Blood Alcohol Content of .08% That's over the legal limit!

 

According to the National Hightway Traffic Safety Administration, it’s estimated that at least 100,000 crashes per year are caused by driver fatigue. Driving while under the influence of sleep deprivation is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.

Lack of sleep slows your reaction time, which is obviously pretty darn important while driving. It’s also critical when working with machinery, or when you have a job where people’s lives depend on you.

Sleep Deprivation Could Lead to Depression

When you think about what happens when you don’t get enough sleep, the first thing that probably pops into your head is, “I get cranky.” And you’re right. Sleep deprivation causes you to become irritated and angry a lot faster than normal. It also impedes your ability to handle stress.

Research from The National Science Foundation (NSF) revealed sleep-deprived individuals are more likely to get into arguments with others and participate in everyone’s favorite pastime: road-rage. The research also found that people living life with a lack of sleep are less likely to:

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Have sex
  • Have fun

Well, that sounds HORRIBLE.

You can see how sleep deprivation could affect all aspects of your life. If you walk around in a sleep-deprived state, arguing with everyone and refusing to take part in fun activities with friends and family, you’re going to find yourself pretty miserable and, likely, alone.

If you are constantly exhausted, irritable, and pushing loved ones away, you’re at a greater risk for depression.

Again, HORRIBLE.

Lack of Sleep Leads to High Blood Pressure

During the deepest part of your sleep cycle, your heart rate drops, along with your blood pressure. In a sense, this is when you restart your cardiovascular system. When you only get a few hours of sleep, your body doesn’t have a chance to do this. That means your blood pressure rises.

If you’re in the habit of getting less than six hours of sleep per night, you increase your risk of having a fatal heart attack or stroke by an astonishing 200%!

 

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So What Can You Do to Prevent Sleep Deprivation?

Of course, there are sleep disorders that lead to sleep deprivation. If you think you are medically unable to sleep or suffer from insomnia, it’s crucial you speak with your doctor.

But if you are just putting sleep on the back burner, you need to adjust your opinion on the importance of sleep. The dangers of lack of sleep are very real and very dangerous. And once you start focusing on getting a good night’s rest regularly, you’ll notice a shift in your mental and physical health.

To help prevent sleep deprivation, your body needs to get into a healhty circadian rhythm. And to get there, you have to sleep, and sleep well.

Here are some helpful tips to get your body into a healthy sleep cycle groove:

  • Go to bed around the same time every night.
  • Allow time to get at least seven hours of sleep.
  • Limit caffeine.
  • Don’t nap longer than 30 minutes during the day.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Develop a nighttime relaxation routine before bed.

Okay, But Are There Any Products That Will Help Me Avoid Sleep Deprivation?

Absolutely! If you’ve never tried a weighted blanket to help you sleep, you should really give one a try. When you sleep under a high-quality weighted blanket that is the   right size and weight for you, you’ll have a much more restorative sleep experience.

Weighted blankets apply a light pressure to your entire body called Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS). This hug-like sensation helps calm your body and nerves, allowing you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

DPS causes an increase in the production of both serotonin and melatonin, and reduces cortisol levels. Basically, a weighted blanket gives your more of the good hormones and reduces the bad ones that keep you awake at night.

So when you combine a good nighttime routine, allowing yourself enough time to sleep, and a high-quality weighted blanket, you’re setting yourself up for sleep success. Not to mention, you’ll be happier, healthier, and have more friends. (Nobody likes a cranky-pants.)

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