Sleep Part 2: What Sleep Deprivation Does to Your Body


Screen-Shot-2012-06-08-at-8.08.44-PM-215x300.pngIn the last blog post, I talked about America’s sleeping habits. Namely, that Americans only sleep about 7 hours a night, which is not enough. That kind of sleep deprivation makes people more likely to eat sugary foods, not have the energy for everyday things, miss out on family functions, not have sex, not exercise, not be as productive at work, among other things. People who slept less than 6 hours a night also were more likely to be obese. Today we’re going to look at the science behind sleep deprivation.

What actually happens to your body when you don’t sleep enough? Let’s look at the research.

This study claims that restricted sleep may lead to “decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin and increased hunger and appetite. It will be discussed how sleep restriction may lead to increase in food intake and result in greater fatigue, which may favour decreased energy expenditure.” That’s quite a few physiological effects. Let’s examine these.

Decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity – That means your body’s cells are less willing to receive glucose because they lack insulin receptors. Insulin is the key that opens your cells up to receive glucose. Basically, it’s the precursor to diabetes.

Increased evening concentrations of cortisol – This makes sense because cortisol is a highly contributing factor to our wakefulness. More cortisol, more wakey wakey. Normally, cortisol is high in the morning and gets lower through the day. It should be lowest at night so you can sleep. It’s a stress hormone, after all. Sometimes people cortisol levels get flipped upside down so that they’re low in the morning and high at night, meaning they’re tired through the day and then they can’t sleep. It’s a vicious cycle because not getting enough sleep increases your cortisol levels the next evening. High cortisol levels alone can cause weight gain, especially in your belly region.

Increased levels of ghrelin – Ghrelin is a hunger-stimulating hormone that is supposed to increase before meals and decrease after meals. But if you have too much of the stuff coursing through your veins? Hunger.

Decreased levels of leptin – Leptin is a hunger-suppressing hormone. If sleep deprivation decreases our levels of it, then we get hungrier.

So we can see that not sleeping enough can have a pretty large impact on your body. And this is really just skimming the surface of what lack of sleep does. It’s also been linked to increased plaque in your arteries, increased overall inflammation, and depression, among other things.

So what do you do? How do you fit more sleep into your schedule or improve the sleep you do get? I hope your interest is piqued and you’re thinking of ways to rearrange your schedule to accommodate your bed more often (you know what I mean).

Next time I’ll go into some tips for sleeping more, and some supplements that might help get you back on the right schedule with the right kind of sleep.

Anyone have any comments on this from personal experience?