Physical issues with the lack of sleep

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By Annabelle Carter-Short

So, you spent the night turning and tossing. By morning, you are feeling tired, cranky, and low on energy. While one night of lacking sleep may not have much effect on your body, continuous sleep deprivation could result in adverse physical consequences. What many people don’t know is that missing out on the recommended seven hours of sleep every night does more than make you grumpy and sluggish. Science has linked lack of sleep with several health issues, from a weak immune system to weight gain. Read on to understand the physical problems associated with insufficient sleep.

1. Immune System

While you are sleeping, the immune system produces protective infection-fighting substances known as cytokines. Your body uses cytokines to fight “bad guys” like viruses and bacteria. They also help you to sleep deeply by providing your immune system with increased energy to defend the body. When you don’t have a sufficient sleep, your immune system is weakened, and thus unable to defend itself against foreign invaders. It might also take longer than usual to recover from infections. Long-term sleep deprivation may increase your risk for chronic conditions like heart diseases and diabetes.

2. Respiratory System

The relationship between the respiratory system and sleep deprivation is a double-edged sword. Obstructive sleep apnea might interrupt your sleep and decrease sleep quality. Waking up several times during the night might make you vulnerable to flu and the common cold. Sleep deprivation might also worsen existing respiratory diseases like chronic lung disease.

3. The Central Nervous System (CNS)

The CNS is responsible for relaying information in your body. Sleep is essential in helping your body to function optimally, including the CNS. Therefore, chronic insomnia might disrupt the signal sending trail in your body. When you are sleeping, pathways between neurons in the brain will help you to recall new information you have learned.

Sleep deprivation leaves you feeling exhausted, meaning that it can’t perform its duties properly. You need enough sleep for focus; thus, sleep deprivation may lead to challenges concentrating.  Body signals might also be delayed and consequently increases your risk for accidents and decreases concentration. Lack of sufficient sleep may affect your emotional state and mental capabilities negatively. You could also be impatient and susceptible to mood swings. Some people are unable to make the right decisions or exercise creativity.

4. Cardiovascular System

Lack of sufficient sleep affects processes that keep your blood vessels and your heart healthy, including your blood pressure, inflammation, and blood sugar. It also enhances your body’s capacity to heal and repair blood vessels. Poor sleeping habits might result in cardiovascular illnesses. One study linked insomnia to increased risk of stroke and heart attack.

5. The Skin

If you have ever had several sleepless nights in a row, you may have noticed how your skin looks sallow and eyes puffy. It turns out that sleep loss can result in lackluster skin, dark circles, and fine lines. When you don’t get sufficient sleep, the body releases more cortisol, which is a stress hormone.

An excess of cortisol breaks down skin collagen, the protein that keeps the smooth elastic and smooth. Another effect of sleep deprivation is the reduced release of human growth hormone. The hormone is responsible for thickening skin and increasing muscle mass. Therefore less of it leads to aged skin.

6. Digestive System

Besides eating too much and not working out, sleep deprivation is another factor that can lead to becoming obese and overweight. Sleep contributes to the production of ghrelin and leptin, which are the hormones responsible for controlling feelings of fullness and hunger. Leptin communicates to the mind that you have had enough to eat. Without sufficient sleep, your mind is unable to produce adequate leptin levels.

Consequently, the production of ghrelin, an appetite stimulant, increases. The imbalance of these hormones can explain why nighttime snacking is common among those who stay up late.

Lack of sleep might make you feel too tired to exercise. With time, decreased physical activity makes one gain weight since they aren’t building muscles or burning enough calories.

Sleep disorders can be treated by visiting a sleep centre. The treatment focuses on handling the symptoms to improve your quality of sleep.  However, the best way is to prevent sleep deprivation by ensuring you sleep for the recommended hours.


Annabelle Carter Short is a writer and seamstress of more than seven years. When not working, she’s spending time with her family or putting pen to paper for her own personal pursuits. Annabelle enjoys crafting and DIY projects with her two kids. She is passionate about autism and she homeschools her autistic son. She also works with few organisations to provide the best resources for raising and educating a special needs child.

Peninsula Kids – Spring 2020

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