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Missing out on the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night does a lot more than make you feel groggy and grumpy. Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences on your mental and physical health. Below we are sharing exactly how lack of sleep affects specific body functions and systems: 

  • Central Nervous System: Your central nervous system is the main information highway of your body. Sleep is necessary to keep it functioning properly, but chronic insomnia can disrupt how your body usually sends and processes information. Sleep deprivation can also negatively affect your mental abilities and emotional state. You may feel more impatient or prone to mood swings. It can compromise decision-making processes and creativity. Other psychological risks include impulsive behavior, anxiety, depression, and paranoia. 
  • Immune System: While you sleep, your immune system produces protective, infection-fighting substances like antibodies. Sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from building up these forces. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body may not be able to fight off illness. Long-term sleep deprivation also increases your risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. 
  • Digestive System: Sleep affects two hormones, leptin, and ghrelin, which control feelings of hunger and fullness. Leptin tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. Without enough sleep, your brain reduces leptin and raises ghrelin, which is an appetite stimulant. The flux of those hormones could explain nighttime snacking or why someone may overeat later in the night. The change in hormone levels can also lead to becoming overweight and obese. Sleep deprivation also causes your body to release less insulin after you eat. These disruptions can lead to diabetes and obesity. 
  • Cardiovascular System: Sleep affects processes that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, including those that affect your blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation levels. Individuals who do not sleep enough are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. 
  • Endocrine System: Hormone production is dependent on your sleep. For testosterone production, you need at least 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Waking up throughout the night could affect hormone production. This interruption can also affect growth hormone production. These hormones help the body build muscle mass and repair cells and tissues. 

Tips for Better Sleep 

Instead of loading up on caffeine or sneaking in catnaps to try and manage the lack of sleep you’re getting, try these tips: 

  • Develop a sleep routine. Going to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends and holidays, helps establish your internal sleep/wake clock and reduces the amount of tossing and turning required to fall asleep. 
  • Incorporate exercise into your week. Exercising regularly helps prevent depressive symptoms, provides more vitality, and helps deal with sleepiness during the day. 
  • Change your diet. Cut out the food and drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate, by mid-afternoon. Make dinner your lightest meal, and finish it a few hours before bedtime. Skip spicy or heavy foods, which can keep you awake with heartburn or indigestion. 
  • Cut out screen time before bed. Light from devices such as a television, computer, or cell phone  stimulates the brain, making it harder to wind down. Put these devices away an hour before bedtime to fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly. 
  • Lower the temperature in your bedroom. Try keeping your bedroom temperature around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Striking a balance between the thermostat, the bed covers, and your sleeping attire will reduce your core body temperature and help you drift off sleep faster and more deeply. 
  • Block out the light. Light tells your brain that it’s time to wake up, so make your room as dark as possible for sleep. 
  • Use your bed for sleeping only. Your bed should be associated with sleeping, not working, eating, or watching TV. If you wake up during the night, skip turning on your laptop or TV and do something soothing like meditating or reading until you feel sleepy again. 

If you are experiencing side effects of sleep deprivation and are not sure what to do, schedule an appointment with Dr. Vincent J. Gimino. Dr. Gimino specializes in sleep medicine for adults and children as well as pulmonary medicine. To schedule an appointment with him, please call 503-769-9455.