March 12, 2018

If you've ever stayed up late to finish a project at work, spend time with friends, or even just catch a few more episodes of your favourite show, you'll remember feeling tired, grumpy, and out of sorts the next day. We've all been there! A late night here and there won't have any lasting effects, but regularly missing out on the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night can lead to some serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

If you're getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night, you're not alone. In fact, one in three Canadians struggle to get the recommended amount of sleep due to stress, back pain, a bad mattress, or a busy schedule. But that 5 or 6-hour a night habit could be causing more harm than you ever imagined! Read on for some common effects of sleep deprivation and signs that your body needs more time in bed.

Decreased Memory, Mental Abilities, and Mood Changes

From fatigue to irritability and even hallucinations in extreme cases, the mental effects of sleep deprivation are well-documented. After all, sleep is the only time we get to rest our brains! Science suggests that sleep deprivation can increase your risk of diseases like Alzheimer's, as your brain resorts to literally eating itself for energy. In fact, driving when you're sleep deprived can be as dangerous as driving drunk!

Even one night of lost sleep can lead to difficulty concentrating, memory issues, impaired motor skills, and mood changes. Over time, these changes can increase your risk for accidents, exacerbate mental health issues like depression, and negatively affect your performance at work. So, make sure you're getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night so you can bring your A-game every day!

Weight Gain, Obesity, and Diabetes

When your brain isn't getting the energy it needs from sleep, it'll often try to get it through food. Chronic sleep deprivation can throw the chemical signals that control hunger off balance, making you feel hungry sooner and take longer to feel full. As an added bonus, a lack of sleep can lead to an increase in the production of the "hunger hormone", ghrelin. Ghrelin is notorious for making us crave fatty, sugary foods for energy! Over time, this can lead to significant weight gain without ever feeling like you were overindulging.

Losing sleep also affects your body's release of insulin, leading to higher blood sugar levels. Combined with the weight gain, this can put you at risk of developing type 2 diabetes! If you find yourself feeling hungry more often or have gained a few pounds recently, you might need more shut-eye.

Heart Disease and Stress

Chronic sleep deprivation can really put a strain on your heart. Sleep helps your body regulate stress hormones, which can lead to heart disease, inflammation, and high blood pressure if left unchecked. In fact, adults over age 45 who get less than 6 hours of sleep each night are more than twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime! Even one late night can lead to increased blood pressure the next day. If you find yourself feeling regularly stressed or anxious, you should really try to get to bed earlier.

A Compromised Immune System

If you always seem to catch the cold or flu when it comes around, your lack of sleep might be to blame. During sleep, your body produces infection-fighting proteins called cytokines, which decrease inflammation and promote healing. If your immune system doesn't have enough time to produce the protein it needs to fight off infection, you'll find yourself falling ill more often and taking longer to feel better!

I Haven't Slept in Years... Am I Doomed?

While you can easily recover from a late night here and there by napping during the day or "catching up" on your day off, recovering from long-term sleep loss can be much more challenging. Some researchers suggest that if you have accumulated more than 20 hours of sleep debt, you may never be able to make up for those lost hours! How does this affect us in the long term? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? In our next article, we will explore how to effectively recover from sleep debt!