Five surprising effects of sleep deprivation
As stress and anxiety levels rise, combined with an ever-increasing reliance on technology, it gets harder and harder to switch off and attain the longed-for eight hours of sleep that clinicians encourage.
For some, chronic insomnia is a nightly battle, as they are forced to lie awake alongside a sleeping partner, tossing and turning, unable to switch off.
But how does insomnia affect you on a day to day level?
1. Your anxiety levels increase
Anyone missing out on sleep may find that their cortisol (the hormone associated with stress) levels increase, along with their heart rate. This can lead to increased feelings of nervousness and anxiety, as well as high blood pressure.
Sleep neuroscientist Prof Horne notes that anyone already predisposed to anxiety is likely to be most affected by it, as for the most part, insomnia is a symptom of pre-existing stress, which must be dealt with in order to achieve a healthier pattern of rest.
2. Your afternoon dip gets worse
Due to the body’s circadian rhythms, it’s normal to experience an energy slump in the afternoon, leaving you feeling fuzzy and searching for a caffeinated beverage. Prof Horne notes that anyone suffering from sleep deprivation is likely to find this period extended, leaving them feeling overly sleepy and with difficulty staying awake.
3. You start getting angry for no reason
The brain is the organ most likely to be affected by a lack of sleep, notes Prof Thorne.
Research has indicated that those missing out on sleep are likely to feel more angry or frustrated than normal, and prone to negative moods. Some scientists put this down to increased activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions.
A study indicated that, following sleep deprivation, the connection between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotional response) of participants was disrupted, meaning that their reactions to negative stimuli were exaggerated, leaving them feeling more angry.
4. You start craving carbs
Have you ever noticed that missing out on sleep leaves you more peckish?
A 2012 study indicated that sleep deprivation increased levels of ghrelin (known as the “hunger” hormone), leaving participants feeling more hungry than normal. According to the study, the less sleep you have, the hungrier you feel. On top of that, sleep deprivation leads us to crave sweet and salty foods more than others — another study presented by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine showed that unhealthy fast food was seen as more rewarding and satisfying by those whose sleep had been restricted.
Without the support of the satiety hormones, you’re more likely to eat more, too. Such studies only cement the connection between chronic insomnia and obesity.
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan adds that “not getting enough sleep forces our body into crisis or survival mode. We start to run on adrenaline which makes us conserve energy and store fat particularly around the middle — this is called ‘trunkal thickening’.”
5. Your mental processing slows down
Sleep deprivation is known to have a detrimental effect on cognitive function, as you are overly sleepy and cannot concentrate.
While complete sleep deprivation can affect long-term memory and reasoning skills, even going without enough sleep for a few days has an impact on accuracy and vigilance. This can increase the risk of work-based or driving accidents, which, as Prof Thorne highlights, are the biggest dangers of chronic insomnia.