How do you know if you’re sleep deprived? While we all know that zombie-like feeling that takes over after a night of minimal or no sleep, when does sleep deprivation become a problem?
For many Americans, sleep deprivation is a real problem, affecting nearly one-third of adults. Sleep deprivation occurs any time you get less sleep than your body needs.
After just one night of little rest, it’s common to feel drowsy, irritable, and fatigued—which shows the extent to which a lack of sleep impacts our mood and physical well-being.
The level of sleep deprivation ranges from person to person and can occur over one night or stretch for weeks, months, and even years.
For example, you might be the type of sleeper that needs 9 hours of rest every night to feel 100% the next day. If you only manage to get 8 hours, it is possible to become sleep deprived and experience a lack of energy the following day.
Facing chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to a wide range of health problems. Since quality sleep is fundamental to the body’s many functions, a persistent lack of sleep is significantly risky to both physical and mental health.
Here are 4 effects of sleep deprivation on the body that are important to know.
Sleep deprivation undermines the immune system, putting the body more at risk for frequent illness and infection. While you sleep, your immune system not only produces protective antibodies, but it repairs and restores your cells overnight. Without sleep, your immune system won’t be able to adequately build up its forces, which means you’ll have a tougher time combating foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses.
Increased sensitivity to pain
When you’re sleep deprived, one thing you might notice right away is a heightened sensitivity to pain. According to research, our sensitivity to heat and pressure pain are both increased when we don’t get enough sleep. Also, studies have shown that many people lacking sleep experience a heightened sensitivity to pain in the esophagus specifically. The National Sleep Foundation confirms that sleep-deprived people are more at risk for developing pain or feeling their pain is getting worse, which could further hinder sleep.
Abnormal hormone regulation
Without adequate sleep, the production and regulation of several hormones can be negatively impacted. Hormones such as growth hormone, melatonin, leptin, cortisol, and ghrelin levels are all highly correlated with sleep and the body’s intrinsic circadian system. As a result, being sleep deprived means that these levels of hormones will fluctuate abnormally. Without regular hormonal rhythms and metabolic processes, physical consequences such as obesity, insulin insensitivity, diabetes, and appetite dysregulation can all occur.
Impaired mental abilities
Another system that needs sleep to function properly is the central nervous system. Chronic insomnia can have a serious impact on the brain, disrupting how your body typically sends and processes information. This means sleep deprivation can leave your brain exhausted, which makes it much more difficult for it to perform its main functions. As a result, being sleep deprived can affect your emotional state (leading to mood swings) and your mental abilities (making decision-making a challenge).
Since sleep is so individualized, it’s key to be aware of the factors that may cause or contribute to sleep deprivation including lifestyle choices, work obligations, poor sleep hygiene, sleep disorders, and other medical conditions.
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