At first glance, lack of sleep may not seem like the worst thing in the world. The excessive yawning, droopy eyelids, and daytime grogginess can all be fixed with coffee. Or so you think.
The truth is insufficient sleep can take a significant toll on your health. In fact, for many centuries, deliberate sleep deprivation was used as a means of torture to inflict pain or extract information. Those who were sleep deprived in this manner experience severe hallucinations, which eventually led to psychiatric disorders and a host of other health problems.
Though the consequences of lack of sleep are severe, the truth is that sleep deprivation is alarmingly prevalent to the extent that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared it a public health epidemic. Let’s take a look at some of the dangers of lack of sleep and how to get a better night’s rest.
Side Effects of Not Sleeping Enough
Lack of sleep can have an adverse impact on your body in various ways. Common short-term problems include daytime grogginess, poor quality of life, and lack of alertness, among others. Here are some of the long-term problems associated with insufficient sleep:
1. Weight gain
Lack of sleep can contribute to poor eating habits, which eventually leads to weight gain. When you don’t get sufficient sleep, you’re more likely to turn to food as a source of comfort, causing you to binge on unhealthy foods.
Your appetite is controlled by two hormones, namely leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is responsible for suppressing the appetite and letting your body know you’re full, whereas ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone. When you’re running on little to no sleep, your ghrelin levels rise and leptin levels decrease. High ghrelin levels can cause you to crave junk food and overeat, which can lead to eventual weight gain.
2. Weakens immune system
There’s a reason why doctors tell you to rest up when you’re sick — sleep is essential for recovery and you need the recommended 7 to 9 hours for optimal health.
Lack of sleep can make you more susceptible to diseases because your immune system becomes weaker. This is because your immune system produces a protein known as cytokines when you’re sleeping, which helps you fight infections. However, if you don’t get enough sleep, the production of cytokines decreases, increasing your chances of getting sick.
3. Memory loss
Lack of sleep can affect your ability to recall things and focus on specific tasks. In fact, studies have shown that not sleeping enough can cause memory loss and impact brain health.
To remember essential information, your brain needs to convert short-term memories into long-term ones, which happens during sleep. Until your brain starts consolidating these memories, they’re unstable, which means you may not remember them if you don’t get enough sleep.
How to Get Better Sleep
Sleep may be elusive at times, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some of our top tips for helping you get more shut-eye.
1. Establish a consistent schedule
Consistency is key when it comes to getting more shut-eye. If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, it’s essential to create a schedule and set a bedtime and wake-up time.
Waking up and going to bed at the same time can help you regulate your sleep cycle, so try your best to stick to it. Even on the weekends, when you feel the urge to sleep in, it’s best not to sleep in for longer than an hour. In case you find it difficult to wake up early, taking a power nap can give you a boost of energy and help you feel refreshed.
2. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake
Caffeine and alcohol are both deterrents to a good night’s sleep. Caffeine can last in your system for up to 10 hours, so try not to drink coffee too late in the afternoon. If you find yourself craving a latte, opt for a decaf version instead.
On the other hand, alcohol can be effective at helping you fall asleep faster, but it’ll result in restless sleep. So, whenever you’re craving a drink before bed, make sure it’s something that’ll actually help you sleep, such as a warm cup of tea, milk, or even tart cherry juice.
3. Optimize your bedroom
Better sleep starts in the bedroom. To ensure you get a good night’s sleep, it’s essential to read mattress reviews online and invest in the best mattress possible. In particular, a hybrid mattress is a great choice that combines the supportive benefits of a traditional innerspring mattress with the contouring comfort of memory foam.
Sleepless nights are a common problem, but if you find that you’re unable to get a good night’s sleep despite following healthy sleep hygiene habits, consider consulting a doctor for help.