15 things that happen when you don't get enough sleep

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You're probably aware of some of what happens when you don't get the sleep you need. You feel tired, for instance. You're likely to get a headache. You might get irritable or struggle to focus at work, resulting in less productivity and more frustration. Maybe you find that eating healthyand exercising feel more difficult to accomplish, either due to faltering motivation or simply physical fatigue. All of those things arelikely to occur - but other effects are happening below the surface, as well.

It should come as no surprise that sleep deprivation has some negative health effects. Sleep is essentialfor the functioning of every organ in your body. Without it, your body is going to struggle to find the energy to do what it needs to do to keep you alive. Specifically, the effects of sleep deprivationrange from a difference in brain function to an increased risk of disease. Here are 15 things that happen when you don't get enough sleep, both on a short-term basis and chronically over time.


Compromised immune system

Cytokines are a type of protein that serve to target and fight infection. These compounds are actually produced and released while you sleep. If you don't get enough sleep, your body will have fewer of them available to fight off infection. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation can even affect the way a flu vaccine works in your body.


Higher risk of accidents

You're more likely to get in car accidents or otherwise suffer an injury if you haven't gotten enough sleep. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 90,000 crashes involved drowsy driving in 2015. That's why, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, lack of sleep is actually a very serious public safety issue. Protect yourself and those around you by refraining from driving when you're sleep-deprived - and trying not to let your lack of sleep get too severe!


Decreased attention span

If you need more sleep, it's going to be difficult to pay attention in class or at work. According to a review of research, even minor sleep deprivation can cause your attention span to diminish. If you find yourself struggling to stay focused and alert, you may want to try exercising to improve circulation in your brain, taking a small nap during the day or snacking on something that's good for your brain health.


Memory loss

Long-term memories are stored in large part while you're asleep. If you don't get enough sleep, by consequence you'll store fewer memories successfully. That's part of why pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam might not be a great idea; you need sleep to store all that information over the long term!


Higher risk of depression

People who have trouble falling or staying asleep, or otherwise have chronic sleep deprivation, are at a greater risk for depression according to the National Sleep Foundation. Insomnia and depression are thought to feed on one another, becoming a vicious cycle of late nights and depressed days.


Dark circles under the eyes

This isn't a myth - you really do get dark circles under your eyes when you don't get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation causes blood vessels under the skin to dilate. The skin under your eyes is thin, making it easier to see the blue blood vessels beneath. Your eyes and their appearance can tell you more about your health, too, if you know what signs to look for.


Increased hunger

You might feel like on days when you feel tired, you also feel hungrier - there's a biological reason for that. Hunger is, in part, regulated by two hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin signals fullness while ghrelin signals hunger. Leptin is produced during sleep, while ghrelin levels decrease during sleep. Hence, you will probably feel hungrier when you're sleep deprived.


Worsened anxiety

If you struggle with anxiety, getting enough sleep is crucial for managing your symptoms. According to a study from the University of California, lack of sleep can increase activity in the parts of the brain responsible for the excessive worrying typically experienced by those with anxiety. Staying up too late is one of many bad habits that can make anxiety symptoms worse.


Lack of control over emotions

Lack of sleep can definitely make you grumpy, and it just might make it harder to handle those negative emotions, too. According to research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, even just one night of not getting enough sleep can disrupt the mechanism in your brain that helps you regulate your emotions. As a result, even minor negative emotions can seem especially important and escalate quickly.


More negative thoughts

Everything just feels worse when you're tired. This might be in part due to sleep deprivation's effect on your thought patterns. According to research published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, lacking sufficient sleep is linked to repetitive negative thinking. This type of fixation on negativity is linked to a number of mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.


Decreased pain tolerance

A review of research showed that people who don't get enough sleep have a lower pain tolerance. Mild pain can feel more severe if you haven't gotten enough sleep.


Disrupted metabolism

Studies show that sleep deprivation and sleep disturbance can alter and disrupt your metabolism. This can be a concern for more reasons than your weight - metabolism disorders can lead to more serious complications such as diabetes.



Even after just one night of failing to get enough sleep, you may experience "microsleeps," short episodes where you fall asleep uncontrollably. The episodes usually last less than 30 seconds and can occur with eyes open - without you even being aware of the lapse. Though you do snap out of it and wake up again, another episode is likely within minutes. During the microsleep, you're essentially blind and completely unaware of your surroundings.



Inflammation is the body's natural response to an internal threat such as an allergen, virus, or toxin. It's a crucial mechanism that actually helps keep you safe. However, chronic inflammation - inflammation that does not cease because the body constantly perceives a threat - can pose a serious health risk. Chronic inflammation can occur due to frequent consumption of inflammatory foods, high levels of stress, or pollution. Lack of sleep can also cause an inflammatory response, according to some research.


Disrupted hormones

In addition to the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, other hormones are disturbed when you don't get enough sleep. Children may actually experience stunted growth if they don't get enough sleep due to the decline in growth hormones produced. Additionally, the body requires at least three hours of uninterrupted sleep to produce testosterone. Of course, restricting yourself to just three hours of sleep would be extreme sleep deprivation - but when it comes to your health, even a few missing hours can make a difference. So how much sleep do you really need to be getting each night? Here's what doctors have to say.

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