What Happens if You Don’t Sleep?

With all the hustle and bustle of life, it’s difficult to get the amount of sleep you need each night. If you have this issue, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults in America don’t get as much sleep as they should. Growing responsibilities, long commutes, family demands, and social interactions all add up to taking a huge amount of your time. Trying to balance all of these things often cuts into your sleep each night.

However, your brain and your body need to sleep to function. Sleeping too little or not at all impacts your health in a lot of ways, and some of those ways can be incredibly dangerous.

What Your Brain Does During Sleep

Your brain isn’t just resting when you are sleeping. In fact, your brain is working just as hard while you sleep as it is when you’re awake, just in different ways.

One of the most important stages of sleep is the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase. Also known as deep sleep, REM sleep allows your brain to consolidate and process memories. It’s also where most of your dreaming happens.

During sleep, your brain is processing your memories from the day. Replaying these memories helps your brain strengthen synapses, which in turn increases learning potential and improves overall memory. This makes it possible for you to process your emotions, and remember the skills you’ve been studying throughout the day.

Several parts of your brain are active during sleep. These structures are responsible for processing the light around you, and telling your brain when it’s time to sleep. If you have a hard time sleeping when it’s dark, these parts of your brain might not be functioning properly.

What Happens When You Don’t Sleep?

Not getting enough sleep can seriously damage your ability to function. Whether you’re pulling an all nighter, or you sleep less than the recommended 7 hours each night, sleep deprivation is bad news for your health. Simply going 17 hours without sleep puts your body in the equivalent of having a  .08% blood alcohol level.

Pulling an all nighter can become life-threatening. Going for three days without sleep will seriously damage your mood and can cause you to hallucinate.

Most people don’t go days without sleeping. However, any amount of sleep deficit can affect your body and mind in a number of ways. Here are the ones you are most likely to experience.

Impaired Coordination and Judgement

Ever heard the phrase sleep drunk?  After staying up for 24 hours, your brain functions are similar to someone who has .1 percent blood alcohol content. That’s 20 percent over the threshold at which it’s illegal to drive. This blood toxicity is considered a legal impairment.

Like when you are drunk, being awake for 24 hours at a time takes a serious toll on your judgment. Your memory suffers and your hand-eye coordination declines sharply. This level of impairment makes it difficult to control your emotions, which in turn increases the chances of you making a decision you’ll regret later on.

What Happens if You Don't Sleep? 2

It’s also more difficult to pay attention to what you are doing. When you can’t pay attention to what you’re doing, your chances of having a fatal accident increase dramatically. Drowsy driving causes 72,000 accidents a year, resulting in around 800 fatalities.

Difficulty Remembering Things

Your memory also suffers when you don’t get enough sleep. REM sleep is a crucial part of learning. When you don’t get enough sleep each night, your brain doesn’t receive the REM sleep it needs to process your memories.

One study found that subjects who were woken up each time they entered REM sleep had higher instances of anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.

Harvard demonstrated that memory consolidation occurs during sleep, meaning that losing sleep means less effective production of memory. This is because the neural connections that create those memories are strengthened while your body is sleeping. When you don’t sleep, your brain doesn’t have the chance to strengthen your neural pathways.

Increased Likelihood of Getting Sick

Your immune system builds up strength while you sleep. It does so by creating proteins called cytokines as well as illness fighting antibodies and cells. When you deprive your body of rest, it isn’t able to build up as much of a reserve of these illness fighting proteins. This makes you more susceptible to any viruses or strains you come across. In fact, if you sleep less than 7 hours a night, you’re three times as likely to catch a cold than if you sleep the recommended 8 hours.

One study found that the levels of proteins created during sleeping can influence the likelihood of migraines. Lack of sleep created more of the proteins in the brain responsible for pain transmission, which in turn can cause migraines.

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Higher Risk of Heart Disease

Young adults who suffer from insomnia are 8 times as likely to suffer a stroke than their peers who get enough sleep each night. Being that many people this age go to college and work long hours, lack of sleep can potentially become deadly.

Adults from the age of 18-34 are also more likely to experience risk factors that can lead up to a stroke, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity. Sleeping too little can also cause other side effects that put a strain on your heart, like increasing your blood pressure, impacting your glucose metabolism, and creating inflammation.

Weight Gain

There are a number of ways in which lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. The most prominent one is that your metabolism slows down and your now off balance hormones cause you to feel more hungry for foods that are bad for you.

Sleep loss increases the levels of a stress hormone called cortisol in your body. Higher levels of cortisol increase your cravings for fatty and sugary foods, which can result in quick weight gain. When you’re tired, you’re also less likely to want to exercise, meaning your food choices just go to your waist.

Mental Disorders

While the connections between mental disorders and sleep deprivation are still being studied, scientists have shown that there is a definite link. Chronic sleep disturbances can cause health related anxiety, especially since lack of sleep can make it difficult to control your emotions.

Sleep disturbances can also be cause and be caused by severe depression. If you’re not sleeping, you just don’t feel well. When this goes on for a long period of time, it can have a serious impact on your mental health and lead to complications that are difficult to treat later on.

The next time you think about trying to skip sleeping, think again. Any amount of time you might save by staying up a little later will not be worth the effects. Think about it: if you’re working at 50%, your tasks take longer and it’s harder for you to focus. You’re likely not saving yourself any time, and you’re making yourself feel lousy. Do your best to get a good night’s sleep each night, and your body will thank you!

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Spire is dedicated to helping you live a happier, healthier lifestyle with an easy-to-use device for mindful breathing techniques. Learn more about the benefits of breath-tracking at Spire.io.

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Body & Mind, Sleep, Spire

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