If you’ve ever spent a night tossing and turning, you already know how you’ll feel the next day — tired, cranky, and out of sorts. But missing out on the recommended 7 to 9 hours of shut-eye nightly does more than make you feel groggy and grumpy.
It drains your mental capability and puts your physical health at real risk. Science has linked poor slumber with all kinds of health problems, from weight gain to a weakened immune system.
In a nutshell, sleep deprivation is caused by a consistent lack of sleep or reduced quality of sleep. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis can eventually lead to health consequences that affect your entire body. This may also be caused by an underlying sleep disorder.
Your body needs sleep, just as it needs air and food to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new connections and helps memory retention.
Stimulants, like caffeine, aren’t enough to override your body’s profound need for sleep. In fact, these can make sleep deprivation worse by making it harder to fall asleep at night. This, in turn, may lead to a cycle of nighttime insomnia followed by daytime caffeine consumption to make up for the lost hours of shut-eye.
Behind the scenes, chronic sleep deprivation can interfere with your body’s internal systems and reason more than just the initial signs and symptoms listed above.
Your central nervous system is the information highway of your body. Sleep is necessary to keep it functioning properly, but chronic insomnia can disrupt how your body usually sends information.
During sleep, pathways form between nerve cells (neurons) in your brain that help you remember new information you’ve learned. Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties as well.
While you sleep, your immune system produces protective, infection-fighting substances like cytokines. It uses these substances to combat foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.
Cytokines also help you sleep, giving your immune system more energy to defend your body against illness.
Sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from building up its forces. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body may not be capable to fend off invaders, and it may also take you longer to recover from illness.
The most basic form of sleep deprivation treatment is getting more sleep.
This is often easier said than done, especially if you’ve been deprived of precious shut-eye for several weeks or longer. After this point, you may need help from your doctor or a sleep specialist who, if needed, can diagnose and treat a possible sleep disorder.
Sleep disorders can make it difficult to get quality sleep at night. They can also raise your risk for the above effects of sleep deprivation on the body.