Our bodies are wired to instinctively understand that sleep is important. Just imagine trying not to sleep for a day or two. Your body will simply shut down at one point. Sleep is vital because our body uses it as a means of recharging and while our brain processes all the information we receive during the day. Today, it is quite common that people do not get enough sleep, partially due to the pace of modern life and the stress that comes with it and partly due to environmental factors (for example noise).
Whatever the reason, our bodies will still suffer the same consequences when deprived of enough quality sleep. While it may not be noticeable at first, lack of sleep will cause numerous problems over time.
Consequences on the skin
Sleep deprivation will negatively reflect on your skin, giving it an older, more weathered appearance. This happens because during sleep our body works on repairing any damaged cells and producing replacements for old ones. A lack of sleep causes the process to be less effective. In turn, the skin begins to appear older, as not enough new cells are being produced.
A weakened immune system
Much like the rest of our body, the immune system uses downtime to recharge. Deprive it of this and the immune system won’t be able to function at full capacity. Its main task is to produce antibodies, the natural defenders of our body against any outer influences. When bacteria and viruses enter our body, it is the immune system and the antibodies, more specifically, that deal with the intrusion and prevent an outbreak.
Like any other substance in the body, these need to be renewed. When the body detects an intruder, it also needs to be able to increase production. All of these functions will be slowed down if we aren’t getting enough sleep. This means that sleep deprivation can, over time, lead to us being much less resistant to colds and infections, while also increasing healing time for existing illnesses.
Our hunger is, much like everything else in the body, regulated by hormones. Leptin is the appetite suppressant while ghrelin the appetite stimulant. Not sleeping enough causes our body to produce less leptin and more ghrelin, which means we will find ourselves more and more hungry, hence more prone to overeating. The reason behind this process is quite obvious; if the body can’t renew its energy by sleeping, it will acquire more energy via other means.
Sugar and foods high in fat are the best sources for high, but short lasting energy boosts and are the type of food you will crave most. In addition to this, due to lack of sleep, your metabolism will have slowed down. These two consequences combined might result in you gaining more weight.
Lack of coordination
Another consequence of sleep deprivation is lowered coordination abilities. For one, your muscles will not have sufficient levels of energy, thus making you feel weaker. An example is having trouble keeping your eyes open. The muscles doing the work will simply be too energy-deprived to function effectively.
Your brain, not being rested enough, will have trouble coordinating your body in space. This will cause you to bump into things or trip. Precise tasks will suffer most, but it will reflect on more mundane things too, like going up or down the stairs.
Less emotional control
Being tired will influence your restraint. It usually requires a lot of thought not to do something, an as being sleep deprived will take a toll on your processing ability, you will find yourself acting more impulsively. It will also be much easier for your emotions to be significantly influenced by something you see or hear. You can expect bouts of anger, sadness, giddiness or anxiety. Another consequence is increased irritability and less control over how you react to outside stimulus.
Sleep is inevitable
Another side-effect of sleep deprivation is the so-called micro-sleep phenomenon. Since the brain cannot function without any rest, it will shut-down for short time intervals. These won’t last more than around five seconds but will be very disorienting. In addition, micro-sleep can have potentially catastrophic consequences should it happen while you are, for example, driving.
Trouble with memory
We’ve established by now that lack of sleep has heavy costs for the brain. Another is weakening the ability to form new memories and recall existing ones. When sleep deprived, the brain simply doesn’t have as much processing power, making it harder to call up a memory. As for the new memories, in order to be created, we need to focus on what we’re doing at the moment.
For example, we often forget where we put our phone or keys. This happens because we do these activities without much though. Sleep deprivation makes this the case for all we do. We can’t properly focus on whatever we’re doing at the moment, making it more difficult for the brain to remember the actions. The longer we stay awake, the worse this condition becomes. A great example is Peter Tripp, a radio DJ, who in 1959 stayed awake for several days to raise money for charity. By the 100th hour, he had forgotten the alphabet.
Should you stay awake for a longer period of time, you should expect hallucination to start appearing. These can be especially harmful to people who already have certain psychological conditions. These types of hallucinations have been well recorded throughout history. Peter Tripp, who we mentioned earlier, began hallucinating around 120th hour. He became convinced that his shoes were full of spiders, that a man in a dark overcoat was an undertaker and that a drawer was on fire.
Another well-known case is that of Randy Gardner. He didn’t sleep for eleven days or 264 hours straight. This was done in 1963, as part of a science fair project. Gardner, who was white, skinny and 17 at the time, on the fourth day began hallucinating that he is Paul Lowe, a black football player.
Both of these cases ended with the subjects going to sleep after their vigils, sleeping for 13-14 hours and waking up without any serious consequences.
Do keep in mind, however, that these were one-time, extreme sleep-deprivation cases. The true danger lies in long-term sleep deprivation that happens, not when we do not sleep at all, but rather when we do not sleep enough.
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