7 Unexpected Things That Happen When You Are Pushing Through Sleep Deprivation

by Eva Taylor Grant

If you're not getting enough sleep, sometimes the response is just to get more caffeine, grin, and bear it. Unfortunately, as you chug coffee and continue your sleepless schedule, you may not be realizing that your lack of sleep is becoming a health concern. The risks of sleep deprivation are much more serious than you may know, and vital to pay attention to.

“The effects of sleep deprivation are quite dangerous, as it interferes with the healing and mental refreshing that good sleep provides," Dr. Benjamin Smarr, National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley and Reverie Sleep Advisory Board Member tells Bustle, "[...] After a single night of sleep deprivation, your reaction time and alertness are equivalent to being at the legal limit of alcohol consumption [...] Sleep deprivation may seem like an inconsequential thing that one accidentally accumulates, but it is a pervasive and widespread public health problem that needs to be taken much more seriously than it is.” So, while you may realize that you're groggy, you may have not realized all the other ways your body is responding to its lack of rest.

From motor skills, to metabolism, to concentration, sleep deprivation becomes an issue throughout your whole body. Prioritizing sleep is vital, and dealing with insomnia should become a priority if the issue is not your time in bed, but your ability to fall asleep.

Here are eight unexpected things that can happen when you ignore your sleep deprivation, according to experts.


You Might Feel Depressed And Anxious

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If you have been ignoring your lack of sleep but have noticed yourself feeling particularly depressed or anxious, there is a chance that your exhaustion is the culprit.

"Overwhelmingly insomnia is one of the most common symptoms I see in my depressed and anxious patients and is one of the most closely linked sleep disorders to mood issues," Jonathan Alpert, psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days, tells Bustle. "It's a bit of a double-edged sword because poor sleep will make someone more prone to depression and depression [or] worry will interfere with one's ability to sleep. The good news is that by treating depression, peoples' sleep will improve and by treating insomnia peoples' depression will get better." So whatever the chicken-and-the-egg situation you may be dealing with, treating your mood and sleep issues can help you feel better.


Your Judgement Can Become Impaired

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The common adage about drowsy driving is actually a lesson about sleep deprivation as a whole. If you can't drive properly with a lack of sleep, you likely are struggling with a variety of tasks, too — even if you're ignoring the cause.

"Sleep deprivation dulls activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, which is the region responsible for decision making and impulse control." Martin Rawls-Meehan, CEO of Reverie, tells Bustle. This can impact all sorts of aspects of your life. "Reflexes and reaction times are slow, and it's hard to concentrate and stay alert and awake," Alpert says. "This leads to an inability to perform tasks, especially those that require complex thinking and coordination. The National Highway and Safety Administration estimates that fatigue contributes to 100,000 car crashes and 1,550 crash-related deaths per year. Similarly, sleep deprived people are more prone to accidents at work." Ensuring a good night's sleep keeps you safe.


You Can Be More Forgetful

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When you don't get enough sleep, even if you feel like you're doing OK, you're likely more forgetful than usual. And caffeine can't make up for this issue.

"During sleep it is believed that information that is learned during the day is processed and transferred in the brain from the hippocampus to the neocortex," Alpert says. "Without adequate sleep, this process doesn't occur, and information is not stored." So even if you feel like you're high-functioning, you probably are not operating at full capacity.


You May Feel Less Strong

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If you've been ignoring your sleep deprivation, but still hitting the gym, lugging groceries, or walking the dog, you may find yourself feeling weaker than before. Your lack of sleep might be the culprit.

"When you don't get enough sleep your body doesn't release enough human growth hormone (HGH)," Alpert says. "For a young person this hormone promotes growth and as we age it helps to strengthen bones, increase muscle mass, and thicken skin." Lack of sleep can undo these things, making daily tasks feel more difficult.


You Might Feel Extra Stressed Out

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Beyond causing symptoms like anxiety and depression, lack of sleep can also impact your emotional state by making you feel more high-strung, or stressed out, than normal.

"Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress, and its levels are closely tied to our natural sleep-wake cycles," Rawls-Meehan says. "So when those cycles get disrupted, so do those levels, causing a spike in cortisol in the bloodstream." If you've been ignoring your sleep deprivation, but also find that everyday annoyances are becoming more bothersome than usual, it's likely time to really prioritize getting more sleep.


It Could Change Your Eating Habits

If you've felt hungrier than usual, your lack of sleep could be to blame. Your body is likely struggling to keep up with the lack of sleep.

"Short sleep disrupts the balance of your hormones, including leptin and ghrelin," Rawls-Meehan says. "Leptin is often referred to as the 'satiety hormone,' causing you to feel full and suppressing appetite, while ghrelin triggers hunger and plays a large role in initiating eating. When you’re not well-rested, your leptin levels plummet and your ghrelin levels rise. [...] When you’re in a state of sleep deprivation, your groggy metabolism can’t keep up with your food intake.” Following intuitive eating might be more difficult when you're going through this, since your body's natural cues can become confused.


You Might Get Sick More

If you're ignoring your sleep deprivation, you may not be realizing how your lack of sleep is correlating to your immune strength. But, your body does struggle to fight illness when it's exhausted.

"Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your immune system," Rebecca Park, Registered Nurse and founder of, tells Bustle. "Your body fights off illnesses such as infections, viruses and fevers while you sleep. Sleep deprivation dulls your immune response. A Carnegie Mellon study found that people who slept less than seven hours per night tripled their risks of catching a cold." So finding more time to sleep will also keep you away from urgent care.

Regardless of how capable you feel handling sleep deprivation, your body is going to react to a suboptimal amount of rest. Rather than ignoring this issue, it is vital to try to find ways to get more sleep before your body and mind really suffer. Whether you seek the help of a therapist, a primary care physician, or a trusted friend for sleep advice, it's vital that you know you deserve enough rest to keep yourself healthy.