What happens when you don’t have enough sleep?

20 April 2017 by
First published: 22 February 2016

We know we don’t feel great. But why do we need a certain amount of hours of sleep at night to experience wellness? AND What happens when you don’t have enough sleep? Sleep is essential for the body to restore and repair itself. It aids immune system recovery and fighting against infections and has a central role in preserving mental and emotional health. Another vital function is related to learning and memory, as sleep plays a critical role in storing and consolidating the memories (both intellectual and physical) that we experience during the day. This is one of the reasons why babies, who are growing and learning, need much more sleep than adults.

The average adult needs between seven and nine hours every night, so all the body’s repair and renewal processes can take place. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen and lack of sleep can have detrimental consequences on our health.

Hunger hormones disruption

Sleep loss is associated with an increase in appetite as the activity of leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone that signals fullness to the brain, is influenced by sleep duration. Leptin levels drastically decrease after sleeping for less than four hours per night. In addition, ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, increases in concentration with sleep deprivation.

Weight gain

Increase in appetite creates a rise in cravings for food, especially sugar to generate the energy that wasn’t replenished during the night. This occurs because growth hormone is impaired by lack of sleep, and this is responsible for turning fat into muscle. Having increased muscle mass helps to burn more calories for energy, and also improves insulin sensitivity, reducing sugar cravings. Lack of sleep can lead to insulin resistance, which promotes exhaustion and weight gain.

To improve sleep and keep sugar cravings at bay, make sure to exercise at least 30 minutes every day, avoiding strenuous activity just before bed. Gentle stretching or yoga are better suited. Also, be sure to eat balanced meals to keep your blood sugar levels balanced, as inconsistent meals during the day or calorie deprivation can wake you up at night. Try to eat the evening meal two or three hours before bed and if you need an evening snack then have one with carbohydrates and protein (such as a banana with almonds or nut butter on rice cakes). Remember to reduce alcohol, caffeine and stimulants, as they can alter insulin function and impair sleep.

Mood alterations

Sleep deprivation can cause a depletion of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. This is one of the calming hormones and it helps us handle stressful situations. Low availability may contribute to irritability and anxiety. In addition, poor sleep can lead to elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone that can lead to increased stress.  Try to relax before bed by writing down the daily worries to free the mind, taking a bath with magnesium-rich epsom salts, reading a book or listening to music.

Low attention, concentration and productivity

Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. Lack of it impairs attention, concentration and reasoning, making us more prone to accidents and negatively affecting productivity at work, as it influences memory too making us more forgetful.

Try to improve sleep quality by creating a routine through going to bed at the same time every day and having total darkness, no sounds and the right room temperature (not too hot). Also create a sleep routine to slowly wind down. Avoid bright lights and mental stimulations, stop using phones, laptops and watching TV one to two hours before bed. Read instead, take a bath or try deep breathing and meditation techniques.

Skin ageing

Sleep deprivation could also cause faster skin ageing, as sleep is a time for the body to heal, renew and eliminate toxins from the skin. Poor sleep lowers growth hormone, which causes reduced collagen production making fine lines and wrinkles more visible. There is also an increased oxidative stress that can promote poor lymphatic drainage and fluid accumulation, which leads to puffy eyes or the appearance of dark circles. Beauty sleep is a reality and a much needed one!

Try the above suggestions to aid sleep and if a little extra help is required, use herbs like chamomile, valerian and skullcap in evening tea, or take magnesium for its relaxing effect on the bod. Take around 200 to 400mg daily with dinner.