How Lack of Sleep Affects Us
by Dina Strada
Sleep is a lot like sex. You don’t realize how much you need it until you’re not getting any.
Then after days, weeks and even months of being deprived of those precious z’s we realize how cranky and out of sorts we are. We can’t focus. We catch a cold. We find ourselves screaming obscenities at the car in front of us just for making a right hand turn when they had the gall to not even put their blinker on!
Soon after noticing that our loved ones are starting to back away when we walk into a room, we start fantasizing about how we can get a little more of what we crave… real, restful, uninterrupted sleep.
Just as the food we put into our bodies, the vitamins we take and the activities we do that bring us joy are important to staying healthy, so is a good night’s sleep. Instead we prioritize checking something off our never ending to-do list or scroll our Instagram feed as we lay awake till 2am.
Trust me, I know the benefits of a consistent and reliable sleep routine. When I don’t follow one, everything in my life that usually works starts to fall apart. I start to put off everyday tasks like cooking a healthy meal for my family because it feels too overwhelming. I have less patience at work and can’t get anything done. And just yesterday I forgot to pick up one of my kids from the soccer field because I was too exhausted to write it in my calendar.
Our brains and emotions aren’t the only things that suffer when we don’t get a good night’s rest. Here are 6 additional ways lack of sleep effects us:
1. WE HAVE THE ATTENTION SPAN OF A 2 YEAR OLD
Experimental Brain Research published a study showing that a lack of sleep contributed to poor decision-making, diminished reasoning and problem-solving skills and slower reaction times when faced with specific tasks. We also simply can’t focus for longer than a few minutes which is why you can’t make it through that episode of Shark Tank without rewinding it for the 3rd time to catch something you missed.
2. WE FEEL RUN DOWN AND GET SICK
Studies show that our immune systems get compromised when we don’t get enough sleep. Our bodies simply can’t fight off illness when we aren’t well rested and we find ourselves exhausted and catching every bug going around town.
3. OUR APPETITE INCREASES
Remember when you were in college, you studied all night for a final and found yourself ordering a large pizza with a side of greasy fries at 3am? That’s what lack of sleep does. The body thinks it’s hungry and it’s not usually craving a veggie burger with a side of fruit!
“Your levels of ghrelin, a hormone responsible for letting your brain know you’re hungry, goes up when you’ve had insufficient sleep,” says Dianne Augelli, M.D., a sleep expert at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. What’s worse is that levels of ghrelin’s complementary hormone, leptin—which signals to the brain that you’re full—drops without solid rest. So not only are you having signals sent to your brain to keep on eating, but there are also no signals going to your brain that you’re full. Meaning you’ll just keep on eating.
4. WE PUT ON WEIGHT
The exception to this rule is if you’re getting up early to put in a good workout. If you are, mazel tov! If you’re not studies have found that people who get less than 5 hours of sleep a night gain weight and are at a higher risk of becoming obese. Our body’s metabolism starts to slow down as a result of losing sleep and we start storing fat rather than burning it off.
“Your body’s ability to store the glucose is impaired, which over time could lead to diabetes,” Dr. Augelli adds. “This is why it’s so important to get enough sleep as a part of a healthy weight-loss routine”—or to maintain your current, healthy weight.
5. OUR SKIN STARTS TO AGE
In a 2013 study funded by skincare giant Estee Lauder at the University Hospital of Cleveland, the results found that there’s a correlation between sleep deprivation and the aging of our skin. And it’s not just more wrinkles and bags under our eyes. Lack of sleep can aggravate some skin disorders that you already have like dermatitis and psoriasis. This is why a good night’s sleep is important before things like a family photo shoot, an important social engagement or just because you want to look and feel your best.
6. OUR MOODS WILL DRIVE PEOPLE CRAZY
We don’t make good decisions when we’re tired. We also don’t have the patience or reason to determine what’s a big deal and what isn’t. This is why you have a complete meltdown when your partner fails to do something like put the cap back on the toothpaste after a couple days of too little sleep. Decreased sleep also leads to things like depression and anxiety long-term, which is why it’s so important to make it a daily practice to get the sleep you need.
The great news is our bodies are so resilient and just a few nights of better sleep can completely change our mood, disposition and mindset. So whatever you can do before bed to make sure that happens….having your last meal 2 hours before bedtime, turning off all electronics at least an hour before you plan to go to sleep or listening to a Hemi-Sync® meditation or sleep playlist should be the only things you add to your to list today.