5 Weird Things That Happen To Your Body When You Don't Get Enough Sleep
I'm the last person to point fingers at anyone else for not getting enough sleep. I've wrestled with chronic insomnia over the past few years, and just last night was unable to fall asleep until 3 a.m. because I couldn't stop mentally calculating how much I spend every year on hair care (the answer: enough to keep me awake all night, apparently). So I am full of empathy for you, my sleepless friend — but unfortunately, all the empathy in the world can't protect you or I from the harmful and downright bizarre side effects of not getting enough sleep.
We all know that getting less than seven hours of sleep a night is not ideal for our general well-being — lack of sleep is tied to long-term health risks like developing diabetes, some cancers, heart disease and other issues. But while all the ill health effects caused by lack of sleep are serious, some of them are so weird, it's pretty interesting to know them (even if it just gives you more to panic about/ lose sleep over). So read on to check out five of the weirdest things lack of sleep can do to your body. And like I said, if you're currently battling insomnia, I feel for you. But if you're not sleeping enough just because you like to stay up late watching videos of dogs in party hats? Go to bed, lady. Those dogs will still be partying in the morning, I swear.
1. Your Brain Thinks You're Drunk
Surely you've noticed some of the similarities between sleep deprivation and being drunk — the confusion, the inability to focus, the brutal cravings for nachos. But lack of sleep can actually impair your cognitive functions so badly, it's basically the equivalent of actually being too drunk to legally drive. According to a 2010 National Georgraphic article based on research by Harvard's Charles Czeisler, "going without sleep for 24 hours or getting only five hours of sleep a night for a week is the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent." How much booze is that? According to this chart of blood alcohol limits, that's the equivalent of consuming four or more drinks, depending on your weight. So that part of a Friday night out when you try to climb on stage to do karaoke, only there's no stage or karaoke machine, because you're actually at a pizza place? Yeah, that's where you're at mentally after a week of pretty bad sleep.
2. You Have A Harder Time Fighting Off Infections
It's harder to do most things with an exhausted body — and that covers everything from playing some video game where zombies are trying to eat your face to fighting off a cold. But while being unable to evade those video zombies and their face-nomming maws may be frustrating, the cold thing is probably what we should be concerned about — and according to a 2009 study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, people who sleep less than six hours a night are four times more likely to catch a cold than people who sleep for seven or more. So when you get super sleepy, even your white blood cells are exhausted.
Again, you have my deepest sympathy if you're suffering from insomnia. But if you're reading this and just like to get the bare minimum of sleep so that you're tired enough to buy five cups of coffee a day from the cute barista in your town? Go to bed earlier! I mean, you can also ask that barista for a passion fruit iced tea, everyone knows that.
3. Your Memory Gets Worse
I'm not saying a night or even a week of crappy sleep will turn you into the dude from Memento. But studies have shown that long-term lack of sleep can damage your ability to correctly remember things and form new memories. And a 2014 study conducted by Harvard's Nurses Health Study found that people who slept five hours or less every night were actually functioning at a memory level two years beyond their actual age — which is not necessarily something you want when you get older, and memory functions decrease in quality with every passing year. But the weirdest part? They found the same problem among people who regularly slept more than nine hours a night. So you just can't win...or, I guess, you can win, if you sleep seven to nine hours a night.
4. Your Sperm Count Drops
I mean, if you already have a sperm count, it drops. Consistently missing out on sleep certainly doesn't cause you to suddenly develop a sperm count to begin with, of course. But if you were packing a load of little swimmy guys before, after a prolonged period of sleeplessness, you might be packing a few less of them. A 2013 Danish study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that men who experienced a lot of sleep disturbances has 29 percent less sperm in their semen than dudes who were able to get a solid eight in each night. Though researchers aren't yet quite sure why lack of sleep equals lack of sperm, if you're looking to fill your oven or someone else's with a bun in the near future, it's worth keeping in mind.
5. Your Libido Tanks
But maybe you won't even notice anything about your sperm or lack thereof — because sleep deprivation can also prevent you from getting horny in the first place. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2011 followed a group of ten young men, who slept five hours a night for one week. At the week's end, researchers found that their subjects were unable to concentrate, had low energy, and were resolutely unhorny.
While this may have had to do with overall exhaustion (you probably don't need a scientist to tell you that being tired can make you exceedingly uninterested in taking a trip to Bangsylvania), it may have also had to do with the fact that sleep loss can cause a sharp drop in your production of sex-related hormones — the male subjects displayed a 10 to 15 percent drop in testosterone levels over the course of one sleep-deprived week. For those of you wondering how that compares to standard testosterone level drops, most post-pubescent guys see their testosterone levels drop one to two percent every year.
So again, if you're suffering from involuntary sleeplessness, I feel very deeply for you and your lost mojo/ memory/ ability to recite the alphabet backwards while touching your nose. But if you're just skipping sleep so that you can play video games, read all 4,000 comments on a supercut video of all the times Kimmy Gibler annoyed someone on Full House, or refresh all your social media feeds while you wonder why no one is updating at four in the morning, for the love of your own sanity and horniness, please — just go the f*** to sleep.
Images: 20th Century Fox/ Taurus Films/ Regency Enterprises; Giphy (5)