9 Shocking Ways Your Body Changes After Just 2 Nights Of Bad Sleep
Many of us think it's OK to skip a night or two sleep, either by staying up way too late, or trying to pull an all nighter. And while this is occasionally unavoidable — maybe because you're traveling, or sick, or dealing with anxiety — it's important to keep in mind that even just two nights of bad sleep can have a big impact on your health.
"Sleep is often felt to be a flexible part of the day’s schedule," Dr. Sujay Kanasgra, Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert, tells Bustle. "If there is either too much work to get done or there are other priorities at night, sleep is often sacrificed. Unfortunately, sleep is not optional, and getting limited quantities has real consequences."
Of course, the most noticeable side effect is daytime sleepiness, but that's not all. "Mood often suffers with sleep deprivation, as does the attention span," Dr. Kanasgra says. "Other areas of health that are affected include heart health, immune function, and appetite regulation. The list goes on and on."
In order to stave off these side effects and stay healthy, it's important to get consistent sleep each night, and shoot for those eight hours. "That's enough [time] for most people to get through about five complete sleep cycles, leaving them feeling refreshed and rejuvenated," Chris Brantner, sleep expert and founder of SleepZoo, tells Bustle. Sleep allows the body to heal itself, rejuvenate, and reset for the new day — so do what you can to guarantee good sleep, as often as possible. Here, experts point to a few shocking changes your body can experience when you're sleep deprived.
1. Your Anxiety Might Start To Feel Worse
Whether you have an anxiety disorder or not, a lack of sleep will have an impact on your nerves. And that's because, as Brantner says, "sleep allows neurons time to shut down and repair. Not getting enough sleep can result in depleted neurons that malfunction," leaving you feeling sad, irritable, and overly worried.
Sleep also helps balance out hormone levels, which can affect mood. "If you haven't slept enough, the hormone imbalance can exacerbate anxiety," he says. "Proper sleep regulates the flow of epinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine — the 'feel-good' brain chemicals." If you don't get enough rest, even for just one or two nights, you will feel the effects.
2. You May Be More Clumsy Than Usual
Ever notice that you feel more clumsy and unstable after a poor night's sleep? That's because you literally are. "Even one night of [poor] sleep has a negative impact on reaction time," Brantner says. "And not only can it lengthen reaction time, but it can also lead to less accuracy in decision making. Perhaps the most serious consequence here involves driving, in that short sleep increases the risk of auto accidents similar to drunk driving."
3. There Will Be More Inflammation In Your Body
By not allowing yourself enough time to sleep, the body can't repair itself adequately. And that can lead to inflammation. "Not all inflammation is bad. In fact, it's your body's natural defense against bacteria and viruses," Brantner says. "However, the problem comes when inflammation is inappropriate. And not sleeping enough, even for one night, increases inflammation. It's as if your body thinks it's sick when you experience short sleep."
If this goes on long enough, it can even lead to other illnesses. "Low grade chronic inflammation is connected to a whole slough of illnesses including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging," Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, tells Bustle. "Research has shown that people who get about six or less hours of sleep a night have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more, so lack of sleep increases chronic inflammation and reduces overall health."
4. It'll Be Harder To Form New Memories
There's a reason you feel so forgetful after a couple nights of poor sleep. "Sleep is an important function to removing chemicals in the brain and sorting or consolidating memories in the brain," Joyce Lee-Ianotti, MD, director of The Sleep Center at Banner University Medical Center, Phoenix, tells Bustle. "During this process memories are transmitted from the a part of the brain called the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain where long term memories are stored. However, someone that is suffering from severe sleep loss causes memories to not be transmitted thus causing forgetfulness."
5. Your Attention Span Will Be Affected
In the same vein, lack of sleep can start to impact your attention span, leading to concentration issues. "Our attention is significantly impacted by short-term sleep deprivation," Martin Reed, the founder of Insomnia Coach, tells Bustle. "Lapses in attention are particularly concerning since these are often the direct cause of car accidents related to sleep deprivation."
The struggle to stay alert may be due to something called microsleeps, which are "very short periods of sleep that can last from a fraction of a second to up to 30 seconds," Reed says. "Our eyes may even remain open during a microsleep. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when we fall victim to a microsleep, remaining vigilant is going to be difficult!"
6. Your Heart Health Can Take A Hit
Again, sleep is all about restoration. So it makes sense that a lack of it can place a strain on your body — including your heart. "For healthy individuals, sleep is a time of decreased strain on the heart," Dr. Kansagra says. "Both heart rate and blood pressure decrease while we sleep. Just as your brain rests, your heart rests as well."
That's why going without rest can start to take a toll, and even lead ot heart health issues down the road. "There are a variety of studies that link sleep deprivation with increased risk of heart disease," Dr. Kansagra says. "It is not known whether sleep deprivation itself causes heart disease, but it likely increases risk factors."
7. Your Immune System Will Slow Down
To avoid getting sick, make sure you get those recommended seven to night hours of sleep each night. Because going without is a surefire way to lower your immune system.
"Don't be surprised if after getting a few poor nights sleep you start feeling a bit under the weather," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "Not sleeping impairs your immune system and leaves more susceptible to getting the cold, flu, and even more serious diseases."
8. You Might Feel Extra Hungry
The reason you might feel hungrier than usual when you're tired is all thanks to the hormones leptin and gherlin, which go into high gear when you don't get any rest.
"The digestive system is particularly affected by lack of sleep," sleep expert Dr. Melissa Lim, founder of Somnology Inc., and co-founder Patrick J. Yam tell Bustle. "Without adequate sleep, the brain raises gherlin causing you to feel hungry." It's an odd side effect, and may explain why your stomach grumbles all day long after you pull an all nighter.
9. Your Injuries Won't Heal As Quickly
Believe it or not, if you aren't getting enough sleep, your body will slow down the healing process. So if you're wondering why that paper cut isn't going away, this may be why.
"Other hormones are dependent on sleep, and an interruption affects growth hormone production," Lim and Yam tell Bustle. "This hormone helps repair tissue and cells and build muscle mass ... This manifests in slower healing of injuries [and] chronic pain," among other things.
It just goes to show that sleep is an essential part of life, and there's a reason we feel so awful when we don't get enough of it. It's not always possible to get seven to nine hours every single night, do what you can to prevent sleep loss. This might include practicing good sleep hygiene, making and sticking to a sleep schedule, and talking with your doctor if you have trouble falling asleep.