What Happens If You Don’t Sleep?
Have you ever stayed up overnight before an important exam or presentation? All-nighters might be commonplace behaviour in universities, but they’re certainly not a good habit for your health.
From reduced alertness to skin that ages much faster than normal, the side effects of not sleeping include declining cognition, a higher chance of developing heart disease and more wrinkles and skin imperfections than your peers.
In this blog post, we’ll look at what happens to your body when you stay up all night, whether it’s a one-off or a long-term habit. Prepare to be shocked into a better sleep schedule by the eight biggest downsides of not spending enough time in bed.
No sleep leads to far more accidents
Would you drive drunk? For most responsible people, the answer to this question is a resounding ‘no’, and for good reason. Driving drunk makes you more likely to have an accident and injure yourself or other people.
While everyone knows that driving drunk is bad, few people realise how bad it is for your safety (and the safety of those around you) to drive when sleep deprived. Poor sleep – or even worse, no sleep – can massively increase your accident rate.
Beyond making you a more dangerous driver, lack of sleep can make you a hazard in many different environments. The infamous Three Mile Island nuclear accident was caused by lack of sleep, as was the terrible Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The less sleep you get, the more likely you are to lose track of your current situation and end up in an accident. Avoid car crashes and workplace injuries by getting a full night’s sleep every night and not driving while fatigued.
No sleep leads to accelerated aging
When you stay awake for long periods of time, your body’s cortisol production – one of your stress hormones – increases. Cortisol breaks down collagen, a protein that’s one of two key ingredients (the other being elastin) for healthy, soft skin.
The higher your cortisol levels get, the greater the negative effect on your skin. Long bouts of insomnia have a similar destructive effect on your collagen level to smoking cigarettes, with both unhealthy habits resulting in rapid skin ageing.
No sleep leads to poor critical thinking
What’s 249 multiplied by 47? How about 5203 divided by 19? The less sleep you get, the harder it becomes to think logically and critically, making it trickier to work out the answer to questions you’d otherwise breeze through.
This means that the student favourite of staying up all night before an exam to cram in facts and figures isn’t as effective as it seems. After all, what good are facts if you can’t remember them due to tiredness?
The longer you go without sleep, the worse your critical thinking skills become. If you have an important presentation or exam the next morning, slip into bed early and revise your notes early in the morning, not throughout the night.
No sleep could lead to depression
If you don’t sleep enough, you’re far more likely to become depressed. As 2005 poll by Sleep in America found that people who slept six of fewer hours per night were more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
As well as being linked with depression, lack of sleep can also result in anxiety and a whole host of other psychiatric disorders. Insomnia is the main cause of depression, with a 2007 study revealing that people who suffer from insomnia are five times as likely to develop depression as those with normal sleep patterns.
No sleep leads to a lower libido
As well as ageing your skin prematurely, not getting enough sleep can significantly lower your interest in sex. A 2002 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism shows that insomnia leads to heavily reduced testosterone in men.
This can result in weight gain, muscle loss and a significant reduction in alertness and energy levels, as well as a major sex drive decline. Both men and women have significantly reduced libidos when they fail to get enough sleep.
No sleep leads to a poor memory
Do you frequently forget facts, dates and figures? You might not be getting enough sleep. When you stay awake for long periods of time, your memory diminishes and even the most basic facts seem impossible to remember.
As well as making it more difficult to remember information you already know, low amounts of sleep make remembering new data far tougher. Brain events known as “sharp wave ripples”, which consolidate memory, only occur during deep sleep.
Insufficient sleep means insufficient sharp wave ripples, which in turn mean a poor memory. If you want to remember facts, dates and figures with ease, make sure you get at least seven to eight hours of quality sleep every night.
No sleep leads to serious health risks
Insomnia doesn’t just affect your mental health and libido; it also has a huge effect on your heart health and blood pressure. When you don’t sleep, your likelihood of developing heart disease or high blood pressure massively increases.
As well as making heart attack or heart failure more likely, insufficient sleep makes you more likely to develop diabetes or have a stroke. For your mental and physical health, make sure you don’t spend too many sleepless nights out of bed.
No sleep leads to lapses of judgement
Have you ever made a bad decision? Everyone makes a bad choice at some point in their lives, and the likelihood of you having a lapse of judgement and doing the wrong thing increases significantly if you’re tired.
When you don’t sleep, your ability to logically assess situations significantly drops, making even the easiest decisions difficult. This affects your work, your health and, in many cases, even your personal life. It can also lead to dangerous situations, whether you are aware of them or not. When asked what one of the most hazardous situations arising from lack of sleep were, Dr Brandon Peters, M.D stated:
@PdShopGodfather Falling asleep driving.
— Brandon Peters, M.D. (@AboutSleepDoc) July 18, 2014
Are you sure you get enough sleep?
Do any of the eight side effects of sleeplessness listed above sound familiar? From students to professionals, many people experience some of the side effects of low quality or insufficient sleep due to their habits and lifestyle.
Are you sure you get enough sleep? If any of the health effects above sound a little too familiar, try optimising your sleep and enjoying a healthier lifestyle as a result. Click here to download our sleep optimisation guide.