What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep


: Photo credit: Izabela Habur/E+ collection/Getty Images

 

Haven’t been sleeping well when you’re on the road? You might think it’s no big deal, but repeatedly skimping on sleep can wreak havoc on your body from head to toe. A British study found that that just one week of sleeping fewer than six hours a night resulted in changes to more than 700 of your genes.

And none of those changes were positive. That’s alarming, since almost half of us don’t log the needed seven or more hours of shut-eye nightly. Jet lag, something with which business travelers are well acquainted, is only the tip of the mattress.

Would you take your sleep more seriously if you knew the exact toll the lack thereof takes on your body? Here’s a full-body accounting of the effects of sleep deprivation, offering plenty of reasons why you might want to put a full night’s rest at the top of your to-do list.

Brain: Think Again

Without sufficient sleep, your brain will be impaired, similarly as if you enjoyed a night on the town. “Being tired is akin to being drunk in terms of decision making and response time,” says Dr. Wendie Trubow, president of Five Journeys, a health and wellness practice in Newton, Mass. What’s more, a study found your judgement will likely compromise your performance. So you probably won’t be your best at this week’s presentation, business meeting or conference.

Eyes: See and Be Seen

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol, and an excess amount breaks down collagen — which is responsible for maintaining skin’s smoothness and elasticity. So you won’t look your best for your company head shot or social media selfies, either.

“Chronic sleep deprivation not only will lead to puffy eyes, but also fine lines and dark circles,” says Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist, sleep expert and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.

Heart: Putting Yourself at Risk

What does sleep have to do with your heart? People who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease — even if you’re young, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and are a non-smoker. People who sleep less than six hours a night are twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who log six to eight hours nightly. Researchers don’t know exactly how lack of sleep hampers your heart, but suspect that sleeping too little causes disruptions in metabolism and increases inflammation.

Blood Pressure: Good Sleep = Good Number

Sleep deprivation stresses the adrenal glands, which secrete important hormones that need to be balanced, especially in women, to provide energy and determine blood pressure, according to Trubow. When adrenals are stressed, more cortisol floods the body, which can impair digestion — think more late nights awake nursing heartburn — and higher blood pressure.

Belly: More Sleep, Trimmer Figure

Sleep is the third pillar of weight loss, besides diet and exercise, says Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center. “Many people are not aware that the metabolism relies on enough sleep on a regular schedule to maintain optimal speed,” she says. In addition, our hunger hormones are regulated when we snooze. “Not getting enough sleep leads to feeling ravenous the next day,” Apovian says.

Skin: Healthy Glow

Resting encourages relaxation, and provides time for skin to relax and recuperate. “Getting enough good sleep can mean all of the difference in the world when it comes to your skin,” says Alejandro Falcon, celebrity makeup artist and artistic director for Osmosis Colour Cosmetics. Missing out on sleep can cause an increase in skin inflammation, and can worsen existing skin conditions like acne and rosacea, possibly aging you faster. “Laying down also allows the muscles in the face to rest so wrinkles will often appear more shallow in the morning,” Falcon says.

The Fix

In most cases, a poor sleep habit is a fixable issue related to lifestyle. Start with a basic sleep regiment when you travel: Get some exercise; eat well; skip caffeine after noon; perform a bedtime ritual like taking a hot shower and reading; turn devices off an hour before bedtime; and keep your hotel room a cool, comfortable temperature. “If you’re anxious about being a poor sleeper, then try to change the way you think about it,” Alpert says.

 

About the Author

Jennifer_Nelson_100x100 (1)Jennifer Nelson is a Florida-based writer who writes about travel, lifestyle and health for a variety of publications including AARP, Forbes and Today.com.