Chronic sleep deprivation is defined as getting less than the recommended seven or eight hours of sleep each night for an extended period of time. It isn’t just associated with new parents trying to survive that first year with a baby; anyone getting less than the necessary sleep on a regular basis is suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. Between all of our to-do’s, stress, lifestyle choices, and sleep disorders, this is a common problem to fall into. For some it just seems like a way of life and you may even feel like it’s not a big deal. You’re coping and still working your way through each day. But did you know that chronic sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your body, often in ways you may not even realize are connected.
When you sleep, pathways form between nerve cells in your brain that help you remember new information you’ve learned. When you’re dealing with chronic sleep deprivation, your brain is exhausted and can’t perform its normal duties as well. This means that not only is your concentration and cognitive function affected while you’re awake, but your ability to learn new things by forming those new neural connections and creating new memories while you sleep, is also undermined.
When you’re sleep deprived, it can also affect your mood, decision-making ability, and overall mental health. If chronic sleep deprivation persists long enough, you can begin experiencing a short temper, extreme irritability, impulsive behavior, anxiety, depression, paranoia, and even hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.
When you sleep, your body produces cytokines, protective and infection fighting proteins. These proteins give your immune system a boost, providing reinforcements to defend the body from all kinds of viruses and bacteria. If you’re experiencing chronic sleep deprivation, your body isn’t able to build up its protection and fend off potential invaders. Long-term sleep deprivation can cause a lowered immune system, or an overactive one, leading to symptoms associated with some autoimmune conditions.
Finally, chronic sleep deprivation also seems to affect your waistline as well. What does sleep and weight have to do with another you ask? Well, sleep affects leptin and ghrelin which control feelings of hunger and being full. Leptin is in charge of telling your brain you’ve had enough to eat and ghrelin is an appetite stimulant. When you’re not getting enough sleep, leptin is reduced and ghrelin is raised. So, you’ll eat more whether you need to or not. And simply put, when you’re tired, you’re less likely to exercise. So, if you don’t get enough sleep for a long period of time, the increased calories along with the decrease in activity are sure to pack on the pounds. It’s not just about weight though. Sleep deprivation causes your body to release more insulin after you eat, promoting fat storage and increasing your risk for type 2 diabetes.
Getting sleep may be difficult, or you may simply have a lot on your plate, but the physical effects that sleep deprivation aren’t something to take lightly. Whether you perform a brain dump, meditate, take a hot shower, or turn off that show you’ve been binge watching, set a bedtime and do your best to get a good night’s sleep every single day. If you don’t make sleep a priority now you’ll regret it later.