Sleep Deprivation Torture

It seems to be that EVERYONE is discussing sleep (again!)…or lack of it, to be more precise. Is this a seasonal cycle? Or is it just coincidental that we ALL are suffering from (and discussing) sleep deprivation right now?

So what happens to our bodies when we don’t get enough sleep?

Dr. Rafael Pelayo of Stanford University’s Sleep Disorder Clinic doesn’t mince words:

This is what happens to your body if it’s deprived of sleep:

  • You have problems with memory and concentration.
  • You have problems finding the right word.
  • You get irritable – you think so?
  • Neurotransmitters in the brain become altered.
  • You become more susceptible to infection.
  • At its extreme, sleep deprivation can lead to death.

Depression and Low Self-Esteem

Sleep-deprived people have longer illnesses, more severe depression, and greater fatigue than those who aren’t sleep deprived. Other studies link sleep deprivation with self-esteem problems. Getting good sleep and curing insomnia helps to fight depression and increase self-esteem.

Weight Gain

If you’re losing sleep your body mass index (BMI) is likely to increase, and so is your waist circumference (hey! where’s the part about my arse?). According to Professor Francesco Cappuccio of Warwick Medical School, your risk of becoming obese is almost doubled.

Sleep deprivation increases appetite through hormonal changes. Specifically, more of the appetite-increasing ghrelin is produced when you’re not getting good sleep; less of the appetite-suppressing leptin is produced. Sleep deprivation causes you to eat more.

Physical Appearance (other than weight)

I can’t believe that I’m publishing this photo – but please, tell me my appearance isn’t changed because of those big black circles under my eyes!

Despite study participants being convinced that their looks were affected by their lack of sleep, Alex Gardner of the British Psychological Society and emeritus Professor of Dermatology Ronnie Marks of the University of Wales found that sleep deprivation did not alter study participants’ physical appearance – tell that to the black suitcases under my eyes! Nonetheless, the study participants who were sleep deprived felt self-conscious about their appearance and thought their skin showed their lack of rest. Getting good sleep makes you feel better about yourself — but doesn’t change how you look.

Memory Loss

Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen of the Harvard Medical School found that “sleep protects memories from interference.” The more quickly you fall asleep after studying for a test or learning a new skill, the more likely you’ll remember it later. If you learn new information and then go about your daily business, you’ll have about a 44% lower chance of retaining what you’ve learned. This research could be particularly helpful when you’re learning a new job. Getting good sleep helps your memory, while sleep deprivation damages it.

Intellectual Impairment

Researchers at the University of Virginia have found that lack of sleep can impair IQ and cognitive development. Sleep helps to organize memories, solidify learning, and improve concentration. Getting good sleep increases cognitive ability and the ability to relate to others.

Physical Impairment

According to the National Sleep Foundation, your body suffers when you don’t get enough good sleep. Your coordination and motor functions may be impaired, and your reaction time may be delayed. You could have reduced cardiovascular performance, reduced endurance, and increased levels of fatigue because of sleep deprivation. Tremors and clumsiness can also result.

Immune system

It doesn’t seem fair… Right when you are exhausted after a stressful move or a big project at work, you come down with a cold. That’s no accident – sleep is essential to the immune system. Without adequate sleep, the immune system becomes weak, and the body becomes more vulnerable to infection and disease.

Nervous system

Sleep is also a time of rest and repair to neurons. Neurons are the freeways of the nervous system that carry out both voluntary commands, like moving your arm, and involuntary commands, like breathing and digestive processes.

Recent studies have suggested that sleep downtime of the brain, so active during the day, may replenish dwindling energy stores that cells need to function, repair cellular damage caused by our busy metabolism, and even grow new nerve cells in the brain.

Hormone release

Many hormones, substances produced to trigger or regulate particular body functions, are timed to release during sleep or right before sleep. Growth hormones, for example, are released during sleep, vital to growing children but also for restorative processes like muscle repair.

Sleep deprivation can be dangerous not only to you but others, since it affects motor skills like driving. Chronic sleep deprivation is also thought to cause long-term changes to the body, which contribute to increased risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

When you continuously don’t get the amount of sleep you need, you begin to pay for it in daytime drowsiness, trouble concentrating, irritability, increased risk of falls and accidents, and lower productivity.

So when is some-one going to help us?

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  1. I am struggling with sleep lately. I had a routine down and it worked, but now, I don’t sleep much at night or it’s not a restful sleep.

    How do others cope? When I need sleep and am so fatigued I can’t stand up, I sleep – most of the time. However, there are a lot of times I can’t just lay down and sleep. Doctor’s appointments, dogs need tending too, gotta eat (hubby doesn’t help much). I don’t get how others cope or handle it, especially if they have kids. (I salute people that have kids period – babysitting for 4 hours exhausts me!)

    What do others do? How do you put something on hold? There are times when I have to drag myself to the door to let a dog out for potty.

    My husband will be gone for two weeks for work. I can’t wait so I can try a little experiment. With him gone, my schedule will come first. Interesting to see if I sleep better and feel better.

  2. It’s a constant topic of conversation with my doctors. If your not sleeping right, all of our symptoms are compounded. Even with the meds I take to stay awake and for pain are rendered useless when we have a bad night. Add up all the bad nights and damage to the body and brain MUST occur. Much more studies on this need to be done!

Got an opinion?