Why lack of sleep is bad for your health

By Mosh

09 September 2021

minute read

Why lack of sleep is bad for your health

If you’ve ever pulled an all nighter, or you have difficulty falling or staying asleep, you’ll know a bit about what sleep deficiency can do to you. From foggy brain to daytime sleepiness and slowed reaction times, it can really mess with your body and mind.

In fact, staying awake for 24 hours has been shown to lead to a reduced hand-to-eye coordination that is similar to having a blood alcohol content of 0.1 – double the legal limit in Australia. And if that’s what can happen in one night, it’s scary to think what can happen when lack of sleep becomes chronic.

Whether your lack of sleep is the result of sleep apnoea (disrupted breathing during sleep), work, stress, poor sleep hygiene, illness, medications, or just personal choice (like doomscrolling on your phone), long term sleep deficiency can contribute to anything from weight gain and diabetes to a reduced sex drive and earlier death.

If you’ve ever pulled an all nighter, or you have difficulty falling or staying asleep, you’ll know a bit about what sleep deficiency can do to you. From foggy brain to daytime sleepiness and slowed reaction times, it can really mess with your body and mind. 

In fact, staying awake for 24 hours has been shown to lead to a reduced hand-to-eye coordination that is similar to having a blood alcohol content of 0.1 – double the legal limit in Australia. And if that’s what can happen in one night, it’s scary to think what can happen when lack of sleep becomes chronic.

Whether your lack of sleep is the result of sleep apnoea (disrupted breathing during sleep), work, stress, poor sleep hygiene, illness, medications, or just personal choice (like doomscrolling on your phone), long term sleep deficiency can contribute to anything from weight gain and diabetes to a reduced sex drive and earlier death.

Do we have your attention now?  

Good sleep is about quality and quantity

Sleep is as important to us as food, water and air, so you’d think more of us would prioritise it. However, estimates suggest that about 40 percent of Australians are regularly experiencing some form of inadequate sleep, and about half of those say it’s due to behaviours that they are in control of. These include lifestyle choices such as staying up late to socialise, long work hours, and exposure to too much light and technology during sleep hours.

On average, adults need 7–9 hours of sleep each night to function optimally. But it’s not just the quantity of sleep that matters — the quality is just as important. 

If you’re not getting all the different types of sleep your body needs (including REM and non-REM sleep), you’re sleeping at the wrong time of day or you have a sleep disorder that prevents you getting quality sleep, you’re just as much at risk of sleep deficiency as those who sleep less than the recommended 7—9 hours of sleep.

Here are some of the ways lack of sleep can affect your health.

It lowers your immunity

Research shows that sleep deficient people are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus such as the common cold. It also affects how fast you recover if you do get sick.

When we sleep, our immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. But when we’re sick with an infection, virus or simply under stress, certain cytokines are increased to help heal the body. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines, and it can also reduce the production of immune cells that are needed for recovery from illness. 

It affects memory, concentration and mood

Sleep is essential for thinking and learning. When we are sleep deprived, our attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning and problem solving are all impaired. Because sleep also plays a role in helping us to consolidate memories, sleep deprived people find it harder to remember what they learned and experienced in the day.

And then there’s it’s impact on our mood. One study showed that inadequate sleep can negatively affect emotional processing, making us view things through a more negative lens that we might have otherwise. The study showed that five nights of just five hours of sleep per night was all it took to sour our thoughts. So, it’s no wonder that long term sleep deprivation can lead to more serious mood disorders like anxiety and depression

It messes with your hormones and can lower your sex drive

Not enough sleep can affect hormone production, including the production of testosterone. 

The majority of the daily testosterone release in men occurs during sleep, so broken or not enough sleep can lead to reduced levels of testosterone. Not only is testosterone important for a healthy libido (sex drive) and sexual reproduction, but it’s also important for muscle mass and strength, keeping weight at a healthy level, bone density, vigour and well-being.

Losing zzz’s can also cause your body to release more cortisol. While this hormone is mostly associated with stress, cortisol also plays a role in your sleep-wake cycle, digestion and metabolism as well as your immunity. Heightened levels of cortisol prompts your body to store more fat, and can contribute to memory problems, anxiety, inflammation and heart disease, just to name a few. 

It makes you more accident prone

Sleep loss is a major public safety hazard every day on the roads. If you drive a car on less than five hours’ sleep, you’re 4.3 times more likely to be involved in a crash. Reduce that to four hours, and you’re 11.5 times more likely to be involved in a crash.

That’s because sleep deprivation limits your ability to pay attention, react quickly and make decisions. So, if you need to drive or use machinery, NEVER do it when you’re over tired.

It contributes to weight gain

Sleep deprivation effects can show up pretty quickly as appetite changes. When your body is lacking sleep, your levels of ghrelin — the hormone responsible for letting your brain know you’re hungry — go up. In addition, levels of leptin — the hormone that signals to the brain that you’re full — drop. So, not only is your brain receiving signals to keep on eating, but it’s also not receiving signals that you’re full, so you just keep on eating. 

And during overtired times, you won’t be craving a kale salad, but rather something fatty and salty like fries.

Furthermore, sleep deprivation can increase insulin resistance, which can in turn increase blood sugar levels. As a result, a lack of sleep has been associated with diabetes and an increased likelihood of weight gain and obesity.

You’re at greater risk of cardiovascular disease and an early death

Not only does regular poor sleep put you at risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes (as we touched on above), it also puts you at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sleep supports processes that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, including those that affect your blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation levels. Long-standing sleep deprivation will put extra strain on your heart and increase your likelihood of cardiovascular disease and an early death.

So, if you’ve been wearing lack of sleep as a badge of honour, it’s time to change your ways.

Not sure where to start with good sleep hygiene? Or perhaps you experience insomnia? Speak to the doctors at Mosh to discuss some treatment options that are suitable for you. 

Let’s get started!