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  • Allie Cooper

What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

By Allie Cooper

Ideally, adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for optimum health and wellbeing. However, in the US, more than 35% of adults have reported difficulty reaching this target. In fact, 10% to 30% struggle with sleep disorders, like chronic insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. Unfortunately, a regular lack of sleep has significant effects on your body. Below are some of these effects and what you can do to resolve them.

It weakens your immune system Sleep plays a vital role in supporting the immune system, as it boosts the functions of your T-cells, which are responsible for protecting your body from infections, and strengthens your immune memory. Conversely, those who get poor sleep produce more stress hormones, which, in turn, inhibit T cells from destroying viruses and other pathogens. As a result, it dramatically increases your risk of developing short-term illnesses, like common colds or the flu, and can cause a decrease in blood sugar. You can boost your T-cells' functions and your immunity, by taking naps in the afternoon, constantly hydrating, and minimizing your daily stress. Still, the immune system won't be operating at its prime until you can do those full nightly hours. It heightens the risk of heart disease Fragmented and shorter sleep duration has been associated with greater cardiovascular risk. During normal sleep, your blood pressure goes down, so the less you sleep, the longer your blood pressure stays higher. In addition, sleep deprivation increases your cholesterol levels, which may lead to plaque formation in your blood vessels (known as Atherosclerosis). These factors, along with your blood vessels’ decreased ability to expand and contract, will lower blood and oxygen flow to your heart, leading to chest pain and worse, heart disease. A balanced diet can help curb most of the symptoms, but proper sleep is still one of the best ways to prevent heart disease.

It may cause you to gain weight Sleep deficiency activates the endocannabinoid (eCB) system, which modulates appetite and food intake. As your eCB levels rise, you are more likely to find yourself craving sugar, salt, and/or fat. The good thing is, you can always counteract these cravings by reaching for healthier snacks instead — though better sleep is still the best way to stop the cravings from occurring, and prevent significant weight gain.

It impairs your cognitive function Regular good sleep is necessary for proper cognitive function. In fact, missing just one night of sleep can already affect your brain’s functions, such as reasoning and problem-solving. Lack of adequate sleep also impacts learning and memory, since memory consolidation occurs during sleep. Furthermore, when you are sleep-deprived, your focus, attention, and vigilance are diminished, leading to slower reaction times and decreased alertness. Your overworked neurons cannot coordinate and access information properly, affecting your judgment and decision-making capabilities.

It’s treatable The good news is if you have trouble falling or staying asleep regularly, your condition is highly treatable. One way to do so is through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia. CBT practitioners will help you identify and change negative thought and behavior patterns that may be causing you to lose sleep. And CBT for insomnia works. Nearly 80% of people finishing CBT for insomnia benefit from the treatment and reach their sleep goals.

Nowadays, there are more and more psychologists and social workers specializing in CBT for insomnia. Many are available in person, but if you do not have someone in your area, many psychologists are reachable via virtual or telehealth therapy platforms like SimplePractice, thera-LINK, and Online sessions work just like face-to-face CBT for insomnia, albeit through video call or text messaging, where clients talk about their issues and the professional provides questions, feedback, and guidance. And the good news is that CBT for insomnia through telehealth just as effective as in person. You can schedule a consultation with Dr. Tal to see if CBT for insomnia would be a good fit for you here. On the other hand, if your lack of sleep has more to do with a medical issue, like apnea, approach a primary care physician, so they can diagnose your condition and refer you to the right specialist (such as ear, nose, or throat). Some treatments might include pressurized air through a tube and desensitization, depending on the cause. A lack of sleep isn't a simple condition built on bad habits — it's often a medical one. Do not be afraid to seek out the right professionals that can help you resolve your issues and improve your wellbeing.

Written exclusively for

by Allie Cooper

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