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

Even one night of sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on your health.

June 06, 2022

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Got sleep goals? Many of us know we need to do better when it comes to getting in more ZZZs but what’s often overlooked is just how much damage lack of sleep can cause. Here are some facts on sleep and why you might want to take steps to improve your nighttime habits.

Why Sleep Matters

Sleep is important for giving your body a chance to “rest,” but it is even more vital for physical and mental restoration. When we sleep major physiological events take place – hormones levels adjust, muscles repair, memories process and yes, your body experiences rejuvenation so it can fight another day. When deprived of sleep, these systems don’t get a chance to properly reset and this has consequences that affect several body systems.

Hunger and Weight Gain

Not getting enough sleep has a serious impact on metabolic and hunger hormones. Primary hunger control hormones leptin and ghrelin are thrown off kilter, leading to strong feelings of hunger that may lead to overeating during the day. Even just one night of sleep deprivation can impact levels of these hunger hormones and over time, this may contribute to weight gain.

Muscle Health

The overnight lack of movement allows for muscle and tissues repair. While factors including diet and exercise obviously play an important role, skimping on sleep can throw a wrench in this system. Sleep loss potentiates catabolic stress, which can break down muscle instead of building it. Much like hormonal shifts, the stress from even just one night of sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on muscle health.

Behavioral Health

Lack of sleep and crankiness are obvious accompaniments but losing your cool in the face of little sleep is a true physiological response. Not getting enough sleep triggers behavioral effects including lapsing attention, memory issues and depressed mood.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Sleep requirements change throughout the life cycle – and yes, naps count! Naps should be kept short – 20-30 minutes tops – but you can bank that time into your daily totals. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that school aged children require 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers require 8 to 10 hours. Adults ages 18 to 60 require at least 7 hours per night, while older individuals (61 years and older) should aim slightly higher at 7 to 9 hours each night.


Photo by: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty

JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty

How to Optimize Sleep

According to CDC data, a staggering 1 in 3 American adults are falling short of the recommended 7+ hours of sleep. If your sleep game needs some improvements, try working towards some of these sleep goals.

  • Aim for eight hours of sleep to ensure you get more than seven.
  • Turn off screens and all technology at least 60 minutes before bed. This can help your brain settle into sleep sooner.
  • Try your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – yes, even on the weekends.
  • Perk up and wind down without excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol. More on this alarming trend here.

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