Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our lives.
It’s recommended that the average person should sleep for around eight hours a night, and this recommendation doesn’t come on a whim. Sleep is the time in which the body recuperates, the brain recharges, and we’re able to heal and prepare for our next day on planet Earth.
A well-rested mind is a basic necessity for anyone hoping to function well. On the other hand, if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll end up sleep-deprived. When you’re unrested, you can lose a lot of your mental and motor ability.
Sleep deprivation affects almost all our cognitive and physical functions, and can lead to some pretty unpleasant side effects. It doesn’t only affect people who stay awake for days on end – if you sleep for only five hours a night instead of the recommended eight, those missed hours will catch up with you, and you’ll soon be operating at a fraction of your full potential.
Let’s look in detail at the most important things you should know about sleep deprivation and how it affects your brain.
1. Sleep deprivation can make you psychotic
Sleep deprivation can completely distort your reality – it can cause visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and other scary psychiatric symptoms.
Staying awake for excessive amounts of time – beyond the 24-hour mark – will cause the neurotransmitters in your brain to behave erratically. Rest is a crucial period in which your body synthesizes neurotransmitters with proteins you absorb from food, so if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll find your mental state going out of whack pretty quickly.
A lot of the hallucinations caused by the excessive use of stimulant drugs like amphetamines (aptly known as “drug psychosis”) can be attributed to sleep deprivation. It’s possible to use these types of drugs medicinally without experiencing any type of psychosis – as long as you get enough sleep.
2. Sleep deprivation robs your body of nutrition
Your body needs rest to properly absorb the nutrients you consume during the day.
While it’s not healthy to go to sleep immediately after eating, it’s even less healthy to avoid sleeping entirely. Sleep is the time during which your body restores energy; if your body doesn’t get the energy it needs from sleep, it’ll often try to compensate by getting more nutrients from food.
Unless you’re getting an incredibly healthy diet, the chances are that your body won’t be satisfied if you’re awake all the time. You’ll start to lose muscle mass – your body will, essentially, begin consuming itself.
3. Sleep deprivation can make you gain weight
At the other end of the spectrum, sleep deprivation can also make you gain weight.
When you’re not sleeping properly, you’re not getting the nutrients you need. This makes you hungry. In a sleep-deprived state, you’re more likely to try to satisfy your hunger pangs by eating things you crave instead of things you actually need.
This can lead to over-consumption of chocolate and other junk food. Furthermore, sleep deprivation depletes your fat cells’ ability to respond to insulin, which is the hormone responsible for helping your body respond to carbohydrates, their main energy source. Without proper insulin response, you’ll end up with unregulated blood sugar, which can lead to weight problems and diabetes.
4. Sleep deprivation can make you make bad decisions
One of Health.com’s contributing psychologists has observed that sleep deprivation leads to increased impulsiveness.
This means that, after a few days of missing sleep, you might be more likely to overeat, slack off, or do something absolutely ridiculous that you might never otherwise have considered.
Sleep deprivation also makes it much easier for your emotions to go out of whack, and, since you’re uninhibited, you’re more likely to act on them. Acting on emotions that are already inappropriate for your situation is a recipe for bad news.
5. Sleep deprivation isn’t making you any smarter
Quite the contrary, in fact!
Losing as little as two to three hours of sleep a night can cause a significant cognitive decline. Your brain gathers fuel for the day when you’re sleeping, and if you don’t get this recharge time, you’re not going to be in good shape in the morning.
College students will attest that, after spending hours of the night studying when they should be sleeping, the lack of sleep slowed them down enough mentally to render the studying much less beneficial.
Sleep deprivation will lower your comprehension, affect your short-term memory and verbal fluidity, and make it more difficult to articulate your words. Not only will you feel sluggish, you’ll seem sluggish.
Preventing sleep deprivation
Insomnia is an increasingly common problem. Fortunately, before you go running to the doctor to get a prescription for sleeping pills, there are several natural solutions you can check out.
Melatonin is a hormone that your body typically produces in tune with its circadian rhythm (night and day cycle). Many insomnia sufferers are producing melatonin at the wrong time; supplementing with melatonin before the time you’d like to sleep can help restore this balance. Valerian root and passionflower are two herbs that are available at many health food stores, either in loose form or as extracts/tinctures. You can brew the loose forms into tea, or take the tinctures as directed. These two plants are great for helping you to get into a relaxed state.
Yoga is a fantastic way to exercise your entire body as well as induce a relaxing state that can make falling asleep seem like bliss. Doing some light yoga before bed will not only make you feel like a king in the morning, but it will help you sleep much better.
Sleep deprivation can strike much more easily than people think, and its effects can be crippling. Hopefully the information in this article will help you to avoid sleep deprivation!