Sleep Deprivation: Effects on Your Mind and Body
Many people don’t think much about sleep until they’re not getting enough of it. The average adult needs seven to nine full hours of sleep to be fully rested. Anytime you’re getting less, you enter very stages of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation puts your body under serious strain as it struggles to keep up with daily demands. However, there are behaviors and habits you can develop to improve your chances of getting the rest you need.
Lack of sleep affects certain parts of the brain more than others. The emotional center of your brain, the amygdala, becomes more sensitive to negative stimuli both internal and external. At the same time, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that applies reasoning and executive functions to your emotions, becomes less active. You’re looking at increased irritability, mood changes, and stress, but it doesn’t end there.
Trouble Recognizing Facial Cues
Lack of sleep also gets in the way of your ability to recognize certain emotional and social cues in others. A study published in Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms explored the connection between emotion recognition and sleep loss. Participants were asked to identify an emotion based on facial expressions. Sleep-deprived participants had trouble recognizing some of the most basic emotions like happiness and sadness more than their well-rested counterparts.
Together, the changes in emotional stability and recognition of emotion in others could have consequences on professional and personal relationships as well as your stress levels.
Unfortunately, more than your emotions suffer from sleep loss.
Sleep and Immune System Health
Without enough rest, your immune system doesn’t have enough time to recharge itself or fight off infection. Getting less than seven hours of sleep makes you 2.94 times more likely to get sick than someone who’s gotten a full night’s rest. A tired immune system also takes longer to fight off illness.
Make Sleep a Priority
The list of ways sleep deprivation affects your mind and body can go on and on from developing diabetes and hypertension to changes in appetite control. Despite the many effects of sleep loss, there are many ways to improve both the number of hours you sleep and the quality of that sleep, including:
A Regular Sleep Schedule: Your body can better time the release of and respond to sleep hormones when it’s allowed to adjust to a regular schedule. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day even on weekends.
Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine gives you a chance to relieve stress and tension before bed and triggers the release of sleep hormones.
Consistent Exercise Routine: Exercise keeps your body strong and relieves stress but it also makes you more tired at night.
Spending Time Outside: Natural light exposure helps set your circadian rhythms, the natural 24-hour cycles your body uses to time the release of sleep hormones. Take a walk outside, go to a park, or spend time on your front porch to increase your intake of sunlight.
If after making a consistent effort to improve your sleep you still find yourself lying awake or waking up repeatedly at night, you may need to consult a physician to see if there’s an underlying sleep disorder. Depending on your sleep issues, you may need a mouthguard, CPAP machine, or just an extra pillow to treat your sleep problems.
Sleep deprivation can affect all aspects of your life. With a consistent effort, you may notice better mental clarity and increased energy to live the life you’ve always wanted.
***Written for Meridian Counseling by Alicia Sanchez
Alicia Sanchez is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com with a specialty in health and wellness.