9 Health Issues You Can Develop If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
If you don't get enough sleep, it may not seem like that big of a deal. Plenty of people get by on only a few hours a night, and somehow make it through their day — albeit with a few extra cups of coffee. Others even seem to thrive on little sleep. But the reality is, chronic sleep deprivation is bad for you. And it can even play a role in the development of certain health issues.
"Getting a proper night of sleep is essential to our health," Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and co-founder of Tuck, tells Bustle. "In fact, sleep is now known as the third pillar of wellness along with exercise and nutrition," which is why a lack of it is not something to be taken lightly.
"As a society, we are finally coming to the realization that someone who gets a full night of sleep shouldn’t be perceived as lazy, but on the contrary — they are recharging their body and mind for the day ahead," Fish says. "There is no badge of honor for saying you only slept four hours the night before."
So if you don't already, start making sleep a priority. "A grown adult should shoot for seven to nine hours a night," Fish says. "Your body [and brain] will thank you." Read on for the health issues that can develop when you don't get enough sleep, according to experts.
1. High Blood Pressure
There are a lot of factors that can impact your blood pressure, including what you eat and how often you exercise. But a chronic lack of sleep can play a role, too.
"When chronic sleep deprivation continues, the body must work harder to maintain everyday functioning," Dr. Sujay Kansagra, a sleep health expert with Mattress Firm, tells Bustle. "One of the most affected organs is the heart. Sleep deprivation can cause elevated blood pressure, and when exacerbated, continued sustained high blood pressure can even lead to stroke."
This won't happen after one or two nights of poor sleep, of course. But if you keep skimping on rest, it is a health issue that can crop up years down the line.
2. Mood Changes
"While most people may be irritable the day after a poor night’s sleep, as poor sleep continues, increased moodiness and decreased ability to control, inhibit, or change emotional responses result," Dr. Kansagra says. "Often, mood imbalances due to lack of sleep can cause irritability to lead to anger in most individuals."
This may explain why you feel extra cranky when you're sleep deprived. And yet there may be a simple fix. By going to bed on time each night, and getting those seven to nine hours, you may be able to keep mood swings at bay.
For folks who don't get enough sleep, inflammation can start to creep in and wreak havoc on health. In fact, research has even shown a connection between a lack of sleep and chronic inflammation in the body, which is different from acute inflammation.
Over time, chronic inflammation can increase your risk of certain health issues, including things like diabetes and heart disease, according to Harvard Medical School. So while it might not seem like a big deal to stay up all night now, thinking about the impact it can have on your current health — and your future health — might inspire you to catch some Zzzs.
4. Brain Fog
If you've ever felt groggy or spaced out when you're tired, then you already know a lack of sleep can lead to memory problems and brain fog.
"With a proper night’s sleep, you are ultimately better able to function throughout the day, but when sleep deprivation continues, your frontal lobe is most impaired, causing mental function to be reduced similar to that of a drunk person," Dr. Kansagra says.
If you want to feel sharp, getting enough sleep will be key.
While you won't develop dementia after only a couple nights of bad sleep, it is something that can occur in the future, due to the way lack of sleep impacts the brain.
"During sleep, the brain appears to rid itself of toxic metabolites produced during the day," Ofer Jacobowitz, MD, PhD, FAASM, FAAOA, tells Bustle. "There is increased flow of the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) that bathes the brain and metabolites are eliminated in this fashion."
If you don't sleep enough, this process can't occur, and that can increase your risk of dementia. As Dr. Jacobowitz says, "With sleep impairment, there are higher levels of beta amyloid in the brain, implicated in Alzheimer’s."
"With sleep deprivation, our hormone levels are affected," Dr. Jacobowitz says. "Insulin levels decrease and cortisol levels go up, both leading to high sugar levels in the bloodstream."
It's also common for sleepy people to each sugary foods, for an extra boost of energy to keep them going. And all of that, combined with the inflammation mentioned above, can increase your risk for diabetes.
7. Aches & Pains
If you've been feeling achy lately, it could be tied to the fact you rarely sleep. After all, "sleep is where you make growth hormone and have tissue repair," Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, tells Bustle. "Not enough sleep will often leave people achy."
8. Weakened Immunity
If you always seem to have a cold, consider how well (and how much) you sleep. Because if you're trying to get by on only a few hours here and there, you will be more likely to get sick.
"Your immune system depends on sleep," Dr. Jacobowitz says. "Various immune chemicals, such as cytokines, antibody levels, and various immune cells depend on sleep. In fact, we think sleep helps with 'immune memory,' the ability of the immune system to recognize and fight infection." Without a strong immune system, you'll be more likely to catch colds and flus.
"Studies have shown that people with insomnia have a greater risk of developing depression," Rebecca Lee, registered nurse and founder of Remedies For Me, tells Bustle. So if you aren't getting enough sleep — or are worried that you have insomnia — it's something you'll want to look into, ASAP.
To start, work on developing good sleep hygiene, which means slowing down in the evening, unplugging from the day, and getting ready for bed at the same time each night, all in an effort to get more restful sleep.
If that doesn't help, consider reaching out to a doctor for advice. Sleep is so important to overall health that you'll want to make it a top priority and get as much quality rest as you can — so you'll be less likely to develop these health issues in the future.
Editor's Note: This piece was updated from its original version on July 3, 2019 to meet Bustle's editorial standards.