Suffering from Sleep Loss? 14 Sleep Deprivation Effects on the Body
We all know that feeling a bad night sleep brings. You feel tired, not quite operating at your best, maybe you’re even a little irritable. These are just some of the short term effects of not enough, or poor quality sleep.
However, if you find your sleep problem becoming more regular, you might start to find yourself suffering from sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is the consistent lack in quantity and/or quality of sleep. And, while a bad night’s sleep can certainly ruin your day, long term sleep deprivation can have a much bigger impact on your quality of life.
In this article we are going to explore 14 surprising physical health problems that can be linked to sleep deprivation.
14 Sleep Deprivation Effects on the Body
These are 14 effects that a lack of sleep can have on your physical well-being.
1. Poor Vision
A lack of sleep doesn’t just leave us with dark circles underneath our eyes. It can also affect the quality of our vision.
Our eyes cannot work to their full potential when we don’t get adequate sleep. Sleep deprived people can find themselves with eye strain, popped blood vessels and dry eyes. All of which can all affect the quality of our vision.
2. Decreased Sex Drive
Yes, believe it or not, sleep deprivation can also take a toll on your love life. This goes beyond just not wanting to have sex when tired. Sleep deprivation affects the libido of both men and women. It can suppress the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone, and increases the stress hormone cortisol.
This can result in decreased sex drive for both men and women, and even erectile dysfunction in men.13
3. Decreased Fertility
Sleep deprivation can decrease your fertility, and not only because of your decreased sex drive. Our sex hormones are linked to our sleep patterns, and can be disrupted when we have trouble falling asleep. As a result, sleep deprivation can decrease both male and female fertility.14
One study even showed that women who suffer from insomnia are four times more likely to struggle with fertility compared to well rested women.15
The reality is that sleep can affect every stage of fertility, from menstruation to conception and birth.15
4. High blood pressure
Did you know that when we don’t get enough sleep it can increase our blood pressure? Sleep disturbances like insomnia or short sleep duration have been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure (hypertension).
When we sleep, our blood pressure decreases about 10 to 20% compared to daytime blood pressure, this is called ‘nocturnal dipping’.1 An absence of nocturnal dipping can result in cardiovascular damage.2
5. Cardiovascular Disease
Sleep is essential for the health of our heart. Sleep influences important processes that keep our hearts healthy. These include the regulation of blood pressure, glucose metabolism and the control of inflammation levels.3
Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease3 and atherosclerosis4 (a buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on your artery walls ).
6. Risk of Stroke
Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide.5 The common risk factors associated with an increased risk of a stroke have traditionally been viewed as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. However, a more recent addition to that list of risk factors is sleep.5
This is because poor sleep duration and quality are now associated with traditional stroke risk factors. There are now even recommendations that screening sleep quality should be used in helping prevent strokes.
7. Increased Inflammation
Just a few lost hours’ sleep a night can trigger the body’s immune system to turn against healthy tissue and organs. This occurs through a process called inflammation.6
Inflammation triggered by sleep loss can potentially increase the risk of ‘inflammatory conditions’. These include asthma, neurodegenerative diseases, and chronic pain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
8. Impaired Immunity
Sleep has an important function in the regulation of the body’s immune system. Special immune cells for fighting infections are produced when we sleep. Sleep loss has been shown to decrease the numbers of immune cells, which can reduce our ability to fight infections.9
Sleep can even affect how well our body remembers how to fight infection – known as immunological memory.9 Sleep deprived people are three times more likely to develop a cold10
9. Slower recovery from injury
When we sustain injury or infection our body seems to need more sleep, this is because sleep has an important role in immunity and recovery.
One study, from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, found sleep to be more important to the body than nutrition when it came to healing a wound. The study’s participants who slept normally healed from small skin wounds in about 4.2 days. Meanwhile, the sleep-deprived volunteers took about 5 days to heal.11
10. Muscle loss
Sleep can play an important role in influencing the hormones that affect our muscle mass. Poor muscle health is associated with conditions that are 15-30% more prevalent in individuals who experience chronic sleep deprivation.
It is hard to believe, but even one night of sleep deprivation can have an effect on our body’s ability to synthesise muscle.12 So, if you are working on those chiseled abs, beauty sleep might really be a key ingredient.
11. Weight gain
Sleep deprivation can also affect your weight. Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 7 hours a day tend to gain more weight, and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get 7 hours of slumber.15
This is because a lack of sleep can affect the hormones that control our appetite. Not getting adequate sleep decreases the level of leptin in your body, a hormone that suppresses appetite and encourages the body to use its energy stores. While at the same time increasing levels of ghrelin, a hormone that causes an increase in appetite.14
So, if you are looking to lose weight, try getting more sleep…
12. Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Sleep deprivation can cause your body to release higher levels of insulin than it would normally. Higher levels of insulin can promote fat storage, and subsequently increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
When we don’t get enough sleep, it can also change the way our body processes glucose. If you are regularly getting less than 5 hours of sleep per night, and building up a sleep debt, then your risk of developing type 2 diabetes rises even further.14
Finally, as being overweight increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes,1 the effects of sleep deprivation on body weight can also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
13. Risk of Cancer
Poor sleep or short sleep has been linked to the increased risk of certain cancers. These include breast, colon, prostate, and endometrial cancer.
In fact, there is such a strong link between sleep deprivation and cancer, that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has gone as far as classifying night shift work as a likely carcinogen.14
So far we have explored 13 different potential consequences on our health if we don’t get enough good sleep. From high blood pressure, to cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and even cancer.
14. Shorter Life Expectancy
From high blood pressure, to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, sleep deprivation can have a massive impact on your physical well-being. These effects of sleep deprivation lead to one final important health impact…a shorter life expectancy.
Getting the right amount of sleep is strongly linked to our health, and it is important to strike the right balance. Too much or too little sleep has been shown to double your risk of death.16
If you are wondering how much sleep is the right amount, there is no one answer that suits everyone. However, there are some good guidelines to follow when asking the question ‘How much sleep do I need?’
Treatment for Sleep Deprivation
It may seem that the easiest solution for sleep deprivation is to get more sleep. However, for some people this is easier said than done. There are practical sleep hygiene tips you can try to help you maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
However, the solution very much depends on the cause of the sleep deprivation, whether that be stress, mental illness, a chronic illness or sleeping disorder.
If you, or someone you know, have been having difficulty maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, you can speak to your local pharmacist about potential changes to your sleep habits and over-the-counter sleeping aids that may help.
You should see your GP if your sleep has not improved despite:
- Changing your sleeping habits
- Trying over-the-counter sleeping aids
- You have had trouble sleeping for months
- Your sleeping problems are affecting your daily life making it hard to cope with.
- Calhoun, D. A., & Harding, S. M. (2010). Sleep and hypertension. Chest, 138(2), 434–443.
- Bankir, L., Bochud, M., Maillard, M., Bovet, P., Gabriel, A., & Burnier, M. (2008). Nighttime blood pressure and nocturnal dipping are associated with daytime urinary sodium excretion in African subjects. Hypertension, 51(4), 891-898.
- How sleep deprivation affects your heart – sleep foundation
- Mullington, J. M., Haack, M., Toth, M., Serrador, J. M., & Meier-Ewert, H. K. (2009). Cardiovascular, inflammatory, and metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 51(4), 294–302.
- Phua, C. S., Jayaram, L., & Wijeratne, T. (2017). Relationship between Sleep Duration and Risk Factors for Stroke. Frontiers in neurology, 8, 392.
- Loss Of Sleep, Even For A Single Night, Increases Inflammation In The Body – Science Daily
- Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Haack, M. (2019). The sleep-immune crosstalk in health and disease. Physiological reviews, 99(3), 1325-1380.
- Sleep: A Health Imperative. Sleep, Volume 35, Issue 6, 1 June 2012, Pages 727–734 [Accessed 23/03/2020]
- Besedovsky, L., Lange, T. & Born, J. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch – Eur J Physiol 463, 121–137 (2012)
- The effects of sleep deprivation – John Hopkins
- Sleep helps wounds heal faster – Science News for Students
- The Effect of Acute Sleep Deprivation on Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis – bioRxiv
- The connection between sex and sleep – Psychology Today
- Why lack of sleep is bad for your health – NHS
- Is poor sleep stopping you get pregnant – Psychology Today
- Lack of sleep doubles your risk of death, but so too can lack of sleep – Science Daily
- How much sleep do we really need – sleep foundation