Whether you’re worrying about an impending deadline at work or simply indulging in one too many nights out on the town, sleep deprivation is a common problem amongst adults in the UK. Recent statistics have shown that 51.3% of the population struggle to sleep, with women being three times more like to suffer than men.
While you might think that a lack of sleep isn’t doing much harm beyond building up your eye bags, in the long-term, it can in fact be responsible for a number of serious health concerns. To discover what they are we reached out to senior slumber expert The Sleep Guru, Anandi , who’s provided us with the top eight health problems that can occur when we neglect our need to nod off.
1. Skin suffers
Most of us have at some stage experienced sallow skin and puffy eyes. However, it turns out that chronic sleep loss can eventually lead to a lacklustre complexion, fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes. “A lack of sleep ages your skin without a doubt,” says Anandi. “When you don't sleep well, your body will feel more stressed and will subsequently start releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which has a detrimental affect on the collagen and proteins produced in your skin.”
2. Down in the dumps
“When you don't get enough quality sleep, your REM (rapid eye movement) and non REM sleep will be affected. You need a certain amount of both. A lack of REM sleep will affect your mood, as it is this type of sleep that processes the mental effects of the day. That’s why you can't even think straight when you are sleep deprived.”
Studies have even shown that excessive sleep deprivation can lead to symptoms of depression. In particular, the most common sleep disorder, insomnia, has the strongest link to depression. In a 2007 study of 10,000 people, those with insomnia were five times as likely to develop depression as those without.
3. Physical fatigue
“Non REM sleep is when your body gets the opportunity to detoxify and heal. A lack of deep sleep will leave your body feeling like lead. Your energy levels will be on the floor as your body will not have had sufficient restorative rest.”
4. Tummy troubles
“Sleep deprivation can cause weight gain because the metabolism is affected,” says Anandi. Indeed, recent research has focused on the link between sleep and the peptides that regulate appetite. The hormone ghrelin stimulates hunger, while leptin signals satiety to the brain and suppresses appetite - shortened sleep time was found to be associated with decreases in leptin and elevations in ghrelin. The study went on to show that those who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30% more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours.
In addition, sleep deprivation prompts the body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat, promoting fat storage and increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
5. Down and out
When you’re sleeping, your immune system produces protective cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies and cells. It uses these tools to fight off foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. These cytokines and other protective substances also help you sleep, giving the immune system more energy to defend against illness.
“However, if you’re permanently tired your immune system will be weaker, so you’re more likely to suffer from illnesses such as colds and flu. This in turn is also likely to make you feel more stressed, which will put a strain on all your bodily systems.”
6. Dodgy digestion
“When you’re tired the body is more stressed and this often creates digestive disturbances. This is because during periods of stress the body is constantly in the fight or flight response and therefore pays less attention to the digestive process and more attention on the perceived stress.” As a result conditions such as IBS are very much linked to stress.
7. Brain and memory failure
In 2009, American and French researchers determined that brain movements called ‘sharp wave ripples’ were responsible for consolidating memory. The ripples also transfer learned information from the hippocampus to the neocortex of the brain, where long-term memories are stored. These sharp wave ripples however, occur mostly during the deepest levels of sleep.
“You will also find your mental function will be affected with sleep deprivation, due to tiredness and the lack of proper mental cleansing during REM sleep,” says Anandi. In particular, a lack of sleep will impair your attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving - not to mention make it hard to learn things more efficiently.
The good news? In 2017 a new review by Italian researchers found that chocolate can undo the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation. "Cocoa flavanols administration could enhance normal cognitive functioning and exert a protective role on cognitive performance and cardiovascular function specifically impaired by sleep loss, in healthy subjects," said the authors in their report. Do as the Italians do and eat a little dark chocolate daily for all the impressive flavanol benefits.
8. Fair looks fade away
“You simply won't look good,” insists Anandi. “You’ll develop bloodshot eyes, grey looking skin and it’s more than likely that you’ll be having a bad hair day. Nothing looks or feels right when you don't sleep well.” Ouch. On that note, check out our Makeup Maniac's guide on makeup tricks to make you look more awake.