8 Unexpected Health Effects Of Sleeping Less Than 8 Hours

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There are so many concerts to attend, friends to see, and new restaurants to try that sometimes sleep is the first thing to go when planning your day. You probably already know that sleep is important, but these shocking health effects of not sleeping enough might show you just how seriously neglecting a healthy sleep schedule can hurt your physical and mental health.

So how much do you need? "The average night's sleep in the U.S. until lightbulbs were invented was nine hours a night," Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., a sleep specialist and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic. "We are now down to six and three-quarters. But everybody is different." Some people can function OK with just four hours of sleep per night, he says, but don't assume that you can get by on that little. The best way to really determine the amount of sleep that you personally need is to set aside a Saturday or Sunday and sleep as long as your body lets you without an alarm. "See how many hours sleep your body takes naturally, and what leaves you feeling the best," Dr. Teitelbaum says. "What feels best to you is how much your body wants and needs."

If you still aren't sure if you're getting enough rest, here are some not-so-great signs to watch out for, according to experts.

1. Increased Mental Health Problems

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"There are many emotional and mood effects from short sleep, including increased risk of depression and suicide," Ellen Wermter, a board-certified nurse practitioner and spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council, tells Bustle. While not everyone will feel this way, not giving your body the rest it needs can also make you more likely to engage in risky behaviors, substance abuse, and social isolation, she says. You might consider keeping a log of how much sleep you get each night and tracking your mental health as well. Over time, you could determine what number of sleep hours makes your mind feel its best.

2. Dehydration

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You might think that more waking hours means more time to drink water, but Wermter says that people who don't sleep enough are more prone to dehydration than folks who get plenty of snooze time. Being dehydrated can not only lead to eye strain and fogginess, but can also have an impact on your skin health. "This can also affect your skin, which has less collagen and elasticity when we routinely deprive ourselves of proper rest," she says.

3. Inflammation

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"An underslept state is an inflammatory state, which is a prime condition for mutation, growth, and metastasis [of your body's cells]," Wermter says. Inflammation may not seem like a big deal, but it can actually lead to a number of physical problems, from hair loss to swollen ankles. But things can get even more serious if you experience inflammation for a long period of time, she says. For example, chronic inflammation puts you at an increased risk of developing cancers, which is why it's important to talk to your doctor if you have issues with sleeping.

4. Trouble Getting "In The Mood"

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Since bedtime might seem like the perfect time to get intimate with your partner, you might be tempted to stay up late. But if you find yourself getting less sleep than you need on a regular basis, your sex life might actually begin to suffer, Rose MacDowell, chief research officer at Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. "Sleep deprivation lowers levels of testosterone in both men and women, impacting sex drive," she says. Try waking up without an alarm on a weekend morning so that you get a good sense of how much sleep your body actually needs. Besides, you can still connect with your partner by staying in bed and snuggling.

5. Muscle Loss

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"When we aren’t getting enough sleep, our body rebels to a certain extent," Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach and founder of Tuck.com, tells Bustle. "When we are awake and tired, our body burns muscle," he says. If you typically use your phone to set an alarm, instead try out a sunrise alarm clock, which gradually wakes you up over a 30-minute period, which avoids jolting you from a deep sleep, still exhausted.

6. Relationship Problems

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No matter how much you love your partner, you're bound to have the occasional fight, especially if you are already feeling cranky. The less time you spend sleeping, the morning likely you are to experience mood swings, Dr. Adeline Peters, lead physician and head of the medical panel at DoctorOnCall, tells Bustle. This psychosocial effect of a lack of sleep can be a strain on relationships, she says.

7. Impaired Brain Function

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After a night of tossing and turning, you might find yourself having a hard time focusing on your tasks for the day. Dr. Teofilo Lee-Chiong, M.D., sleep expert and professor at National Jewish Health and chief medical liaison at Philips, tells Bustle that cutting your sleep hours short can negatively affect your cognition. Memory, information processing, learning, reasoning, decision-making, and even judgment can all be impaired, he says. Instead of just trying to get by on five hours of rest, fix yourself a melatonin-rich bedtime snack of foods like walnuts and cucumbers to help you drift off naturally.

8. A Weakened Immune System

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Sleeping gives your body a chance to repair itself, so when you aren't getting enough of it, your immune system may not be running at 100 percent. If you're regularly cutting your rest time short, you have a higher chance of getting an infection, and your body will produce fewer antibodies to fight viruses like the flu, Dr. Rizwana Sultana, a sleep expert and assistant professor at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, tells Bustle. If you're having trouble drifting off, try making your bedroom a little colder, which studies have shown decreases insomnia and releases melatonin.

Grab your silkiest eye mask and pull on your fuzziest socks to get ready for a marathon snooze session. Your body and your mind will definitely thank you.