Sleep, as we all know, is critically important for our ability to function normally and to maintain our health. If we are sleep deprived, our mind and body will let us know very clearly. Learn what these deprivation signals are and what you need to do to get back on track.
Sleep: What Is Sleep Deprivation?
It’s when you skimp on sleep night after night that it becomes a real problem. Though you may think your five-hours-a-night habit is nothing to worry about, chronic deprivation has been tied to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.
Sleep: Constantly Hungry
If the brain is not getting the energy it needs from sleep it will often try to get it from food. Running low on rest can increase the production of ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone, in your gut. Too much ghrelin makes your body crave fatty and sugary foods. Poor sleep can also mess with leptin, the satiety hormone. So, when you’re not sleeping properly you tend to eat more of what you’re craving because you’re not getting the stop eating signals.
Sleep: Gaining Weight
With an increased appetite comes another unpleasant symptom of sleep deprivation: weight gain. With ghrelin and leptin already out of whack, your body will crave fried foods and sweets to get you through the day. A lack of sleep can also have direct effects on your metabolism, since it slows down without proper rest.
What’s more, a 2012 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that just four and a half hours of sleep for four days straight can reduce your fat cells’ ability to respond to insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating energy, by 30%.
Sleep: Impulses Rule, Not Reason
People tend to act without thinking when they’re exhausted, says Gail Saltz, MD, Health’s contributing psychology editor. “Your ability to say, ‘No, I shouldn’t have another candy bar’ becomes more difficult.” This doesn’t just apply to pigging out. You also might find yourself doing or saying things you don’t necessarily mean, like lashing out at a spouse or ranting at a co-worker. “The main thing is you’re less inhibited,” says Kelly Baron, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Sleep: Memory Fails You
Can’t remember what movie you saw last weekend or where you put your car keys, again? Before you panic about having a serious memory problem, know that your brain is probably fine. You can’t focus and think straight when tired.
Research from the National Institutes of Health showed that in mice, sleep helps clear toxic molecules from the brain. So not getting enough regularly could impair your brain’s ability to keep the nervous system clear and your memory sharp.
Sleep: Impaired Decision Making
Deprivation can affect speed and higher-level cognitive processing. That means essential functions, like problem solving or time management, become even more difficult to carry out.
Researchers asked both deprived and well-rested volunteers to perform a set of tasks. These required quick decision-making. The accuracy of those without quality sleep went down by 2.4%, while the rested group improved accuracy by 4.3%.
Sleep: Impaired Motor Skills
Sleep deprivation causes lowered reaction time and concentration as well as more difficulty with movement.