Sleep is an essential part of our health. The quality and amount of sleep that we get directly relates to our body’s ability to function at a high level. From weight maintenance and memory to our immune system’s ability to fight infection and lower risk of disease, the way we sleep impacts how we spend our waking hours. Some physicians even refer to sleep as the fuel of life!
Here are just a few of the ways that lack of sleep has been shown to negatively impact your body.
Decreased Energy and Increased Fatigue
This one is pretty straightforward. While the amount of necessary sleep varies from person to person, the standard range is between 7-8 hours per night. While we sleep, our brains cycle through periods of non-REM rest, what some sleep experts also call quiet sleep, and REM sleep when our brains are more active. REM sleep deprivation leads to unpleasant health side effects like anxiety, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, irritability and a decline in motor coordination.
Decreased Cognitive Performance, Attention, and Response Time
Studies have shown that sleep-deprived people are more likely to be involved in car accidents. If you are tired, your brain has to work much harder to stay alert and critical connections between neurons are weakened. The speed at which you can process sensory information, or make decisions, is reduced when you are sleep deprived. The effect is similar in some ways to alcohol intoxication, as tired neurons respond more slowly to external stimuli and take longer to relay information.
Impaired Working Memory, Executive Functioning, Information Processing, and Decision-Making
Teachers often caution students against pulling “all-nighters” when preparing for a test or writing a paper, as the brain’s ability to retain pieces of information is diminished when it is sleep-deprived. Lack of sleep is generally harmful to brain functioning, and it affects the frontal lobe of the brain, which impacts alertness, decision-making, and working memory.
Your working memory retains information temporarily and is essential for reasoning. More simply, your tiredness will probably cancel out at least some of the extra time you spent studying or working so you may be better off logging some zzz’s instead.
Negative Mood, Irritability, and Increased Depression
Sleep tangibly impacts our emotions. A lack of sleep has been shown to make us feel more hostile, angry and depressed. Studies have also shown that chronically tired people have a harder time controlling or regulating their moods. This means they don’t just feel worse — they respond more aggressively or actively than they otherwise would if they were well-rested.
Other Effects Include:
- A shift in metabolism which can lead to weight gain
- Altered hormonal (endocrine) regulation
- Immune system dysfunction
- Increased mortality with less than 6 hours per night
- Coronary events
- Poor pain tolerance
Now that you’re familiar with some of the adverse effects of lack of sleep, what can you do to improve your sleep patterns? Here are eight ways to get a better night’s sleep and five foods that have been correlated with improving one’s quality of rest. We also have a list of non-prescription sleep aids to help you prepare for bed.
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