For many of us, getting eight hours of sleep each night is a luxury that we can only dream of (pun not intended).

How much sleep is ‘enough’? What are the effects of insufficient sleep? How are our bodies affected?

The following article sheds some light on the unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous, repercussions of not getting enough shut-eye each night. 

1. Sleepiness Causes Accidents

Sleep is a biological requirement that cannot be overcome with willpower, determination or training. Prof Russell Foster, a neuroscientist from the University of Oxford, said that a lack of sleep damages long-term health, and that it results in impaired brain skills similar to those observed under the influence of alcohol.

Research suggests that the adverse effects of sleep deprivation come about when adults get less than five hours of sleep each night. Effects similar to those experienced after alcohol consumption include general impairment of vision and coordination.

These could distract a driver on his morning commute, along with accidental microsleeps that entail dropping off when at the wheel. In addition to causing vehicular accidents, these side-effects may also damage the quality of crucial decisions made at work. 

2. Sleep Loss Impairs Your Normal Thought Process

Sleep plays a critical role in the thinking and learning processes. Lack of sleep affects these cognitive abilities in several ways.

Firstly, it impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. This litany of side effects makes it virtually impossible to absorb information efficiently, resulting in a greatly reduced learning potential.

Secondly, throughout the night, various sleep cycles play a key role in ‘consolidating’ memories. If you do not get enough sleep, the information you have gathered throughout the day is not effectively stored in your short-term and long-term memory banks, resulting in memory gaps and a decline in cognitive ability and recollection.

3. Your Mood Could Swing All over the Place.

In addition to impairing the ability to learn and process information, decreased sleep also leads to “depression and anxiety in the long term,” advises Dianne Augelli, M.D., a sleep expert at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

The short term effects of sleep deprivation, however, may offer a false impression of an improvement in mood. Augelli counsels that the short term elevation in mood “may be because certain neurotransmitters and hormones are released to keep you awake”.

She cautions that the borderline-euphoric feelings will not last, and that they are to be regarded as early warning markers of damage caused by insufficient sleep. 

4. Your Blood Pressure Goes Up

If temporary euphoria doesn’t sound that bad to you, this next side-effect will. In a landmark study of human sleep deprivation, University of Chicago researchers followed a group of student volunteers who slept only four hours nightly for six consecutive days.

The volunteers developed higher blood pressure and higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. To compound the matter, volunteers also produced only half the usual number of antibodies to a flu vaccine. Some sleep-deprived students also showed signs of insulin resistance — a condition widely regarded as a precursor of type 2 diabetes and metabolic slowdown. 

The changes were reversed when the student volunteers made up the hours of sleep they had lost. The Chicago study helps to explain why chronic sleep debt raises the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. 

5. Your Skin Gets Stressed out, Too.

In addition to the cognitive and physical effects listed above, a more visible side effect awaits those who continuously deprive themselves of sufficient sleep. The aforementioned stress hormone, cortisol, is also responsible for moderating skin health and appearance.

Cortisol levels naturally decrease during sleep, says Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Low levels of cortisol allow skin to regenerate and protect itself. Missing out on sleep, however, means that cortisol levels stay high and skin is not allowed to perform its natural reparative tasks.

In addition, greater cortisol levels in turn increases the skin’s oil production capabilities, leaving you with a greasy appearance and prone to a pimple break-out.

These are some of the startling side-effects of not getting enough sleep each night. Now that you’re sufficiently motivated to get the amount of sleep your body requires, increase your ‘ROI’ by finding out which positions would work best for you

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