What Happens in Your Body When You’re Sleep Deprived?

What Happens in Your Body When You’re Sleep Deprived?

Source:  Dr. Mercola

Lack of sleep has many ramifications, from minor to major, depending on your accumulated sleep debt. Short term, lack of sleep tends to have an immediate effect on your mental and emotional states.

Over the long term, poor sleep can contribute to a whole host of chronic health problems, from obesity and diabetes to immune problems and an increased risk for cancer. Plus it raises your risk of accidents and occupational errors.

Unfortunately, few are those who sleep well on a regular basis. Part of the problem is our propensity for using artificial lighting and electronics at night, in combination with getting insufficient exposure to full, bright, and natural sunlight during the day.

This disconnect from the natural cycles of day and night, activity and sleep, can turn into a chronic problem where you’re constantly struggling to sleep well.

Fortunately the remedy is simple, and if you follow the recommendations at the end of this article, chances are you’ll be able to reestablish a healthy sleep pattern, without which you simply cannot be optimally healthy — even if you do everything else right.

A Single Night Without Sleep Can Have Severe Implications

As shown in the video above,1 going just one night without proper sleep starts to impair your physical movements and mental focus, comparable to having a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent.2

In essence, if you haven’t slept, your level of impairment is on par with someone who’s drunk.

According to researchers, 24 hours’ worth of sleeplessness breaks down cognitive faculties to such a degree that you’ll be 4.5 times more likely to sign a false confession.3

Overall, you become more susceptible to “suggested” memories, and start having trouble discerning the true source of your memories. For example, you might confuse something you read somewhere with a first-hand experience. According to the authors of this study:

“We propose that sleep deprivation sets the stage for a false confession by impairing complex decision making abilities — specifically, the ability to anticipate risks and consequences, inhibit behavioral impulses, and resist suggestive influences.”

Lack of Sleep Linked to Internet Surfing and Poor Grades

Other research4 has linked lack of sleep to more extended internet usage, such as browsing through Facebook rather than studying or working. The reason for this is again related to impaired cognition and the inability to focus, making you more prone to distraction.

Not surprisingly, academic performance also suffers. In one recent study,5 the less sleep high school students reported getting, the lower their average grades were.

How Sleep Influences and Regulates Emotional Perception

Sleeping well is also important for maintaining emotional balance. Fatigue compromises your brain’s ability to regulate emotions, making you more prone to crankiness, anxiety, and unwarranted emotional outbursts.

Recent research also shows that when you haven’t slept well, you’re more apt to overreact to neutral events; you may feel provoked when no provocation actually exists, and you may lose your ability to sort out the unimportant from the important, which can result in bias and poor judgment.

Reporting on this research, in which participants were kept awake for one whole night before taking a series of image tests to gauge emotional reactions and concentration levels, Medical News Today writes:6

“… Eti Ben-Simon, who conducted the experiment, believes that sleep deprivation may universally impair judgment, but it is more likely that a lack of sleep causes neutral images to provoke an emotional response.

The second test examined concentration levels. Participants inside an fMRI scanner had to complete a task that demanded their attention to press a key or button, while ignoring distracting background pictures with emotional or neutral content …

After only one night without sleep, participants were distracted by every single image (neutral and emotional), while well-rested participants only found the emotional images distracting.

The effect was indicated by activity change, or what Prof. Hendler calls ‘a change in the emotional specificity’ of the amygdala … a major limbic node responsible for emotional processing in the brain.”

What Happens in Your Body After Two or More Sleepless Nights?

After 48 hours of no sleep, your oxygen intake is lessened and anaerobic power is impaired, which affects your athletic potential. You may also lose coordination, and start to forget words when speaking. It’s all downhill from there.

After the 72 hour-mark of no sleep, concentration takes a major hit, and emotional agitation and heart rate increases. Your chances of falling asleep during the day increase and along with it, your risk of having an accident.

In 2013, drowsy drivers caused 72,000 car accidents in which 800 Americans were killed, and 44,000 were injured.7 Your problem-solving skills dwindle with each passing sleepless night, and paranoia can become a problem.

In some cases, hallucinations and sleep deprivation psychosis can set in — a condition in which you can no longer interpret reality. Recent research suggests psychosis can occur after as little as 24 hours without sleep, effectively mimicking symptoms observed in those with schizophrenia.

Sleep Deprivation Decreases Your Immune Function

Research published in the journal Sleep reports that sleep deprivation has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress.8,9

The researchers measured the white blood cell counts in 15 people who stayed awake for 29 hours straight, and found that blood cell counts increased during the sleep deprivation phase. This is the same type of response you typically see when you’re sick or stressed.

In a nutshell, whether you’re physically stressed, sick, or sleep-deprived, your immune system becomes hyperactive and starts producing white blood cells — your body’s first line of defense against foreign invaders like infectious agents. Elevated levels of white blood cells are typically a sign of disease. So your body reacts to sleep deprivation in much the same way it reacts to illness.

Other study10 findings suggest that deep sleep plays a very special role in strengthening immunological memories of previously encountered pathogens in a way similar to psychological long-term memory retention. When you’re well rested, your immune system is able to mount a much faster and more effective response when an antigen is encountered a second time.

When you’re sleep-deprived, your body loses much of this rapid response ability. Unfortunately, sleep is one of the most overlooked factors of optimal health in general, and immune function in particular.

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