Have you ever experienced a night where you tossed and turned in bed, watching the hours on your clock pass while you couldn’t sleep? Or do you know the feeling of getting up in the morning—after sleeping all night—yet somehow feeling like you never slept at all?
These—and other experiences like them—are signs of sleep deprivation. Not only are sleep deprivation side effects exhausting, but they can also be dangerous if left unattended. You and your health are too important to neglect a night of good sleep.
Here are nine surprising (and powerful) effects of sleep deprivation:
1. Higher Potential for Accidents
Lack of sleep causes drowsiness, lack of balance, and diminished coordination, all of which contribute to everyday accidents. Some of these accidents are small and insignificant, while others can be devastating. Accidents can happen behind the wheel or in a place of employment.
2. Foggy Brain
Have you ever said or done something without any real understanding of why you did it? What about doing something impulsive or impetuous that felt like an out-of-body experience? Could it be that you were tired? According to Psychology Today, “Even minor sleep deficits can thwart your ability to make astute decisions.” Some researchers even suggest that our moral judgment is impaired when we are tired.
3. Memory Loss
When we sleep, our brains do much more than rest. They create connections that enable us to process and then store memories of what we’ve heard, seen, or done during the day. So when we fail to get adequate sleep—or when we skip a night of sleep all together—we impair our brain’s ability to make short and long-term memories. This can be destructive in the short-term (especially when preparing for a project or presentation), and even more harmful in the long-term if it continues.
Sleep studies have shown that sleep deprivation—whether partial or significant—affects mood. During the studies, once the subjects were able to get good sleep, they experienced a dramatic improvement in their attitude. We know this rationally, don’t we? How do you feel after a poor night’s sleep? And we know that mood affects everything from our relationships to our job performance.
Sleep and mental health are far more intricately connected than most people realize. According to an article from Harvard Health, “Traditionally, clinicians treating patients with psychiatric disorders have viewed insomnia and other sleep disorders as symptoms. But studies in both adults and children suggest that sleep problems may raise the risk for, and even directly contribute to, the development of some psychiatric disorders.”
6. Impaired Judgement
Ever tried to take a test after pulling an all-nighter? The hours of study are nearly canceled out by the sleep loss. Your concentration, creativity, and problem-solving all depend on how much rest you get. Sleep is a sort of food for our brains that simply cannot be supplemented in other ways.
7. Weight Gain
Not only is it harder to make good decisions when we’re tired (see #2), but sleep deprivation can slow down metabolism and increase our capacity to crave junk food. When was the last time you pulled an all-nighter and craved veggies in the morning? Most often, late-nights call for pizza or take-out because we crave comfort foods when we’re tired. Often our worst decisions about food come on the heels of exhaustion.
8. Accelerated Aging
Not literally, of course. Our days are 24 hours long whether or not we go to sleep. But the effects of aging? That’s a different story. For example, a clinical trial conducted by physician-scientists from University Hospitals Case Medical Center discovered that people who didn’t get enough sleep showed increased signs of skin aging. Another study by researchers at UCLA found that a single night with insufficient sleep can make cells age faster.
9. Weakened Immune System
The body depends on sleep to strengthen its defenses against illnesses like the flu or the common cold. So when we’re tired, we are instantly more susceptible to germs, and a weakened immune system leaves us further exposed to illnesses of all kinds.
If you’re struggling with sleep deprivation, rest assured that it can only get better from here, and becoming aware of the problem is the first step. In just a short time, with the right tools, you could be getting the best rest with the greatest results you can imagine.