There's little worse than a bad night's sleep.
But no-one really considers how lack of sleep affects your body.
Forcing your eyes open to the sound of the alarm when you feel anything but rested can feel like torture, especially if it’s just the latest in a string of sleepless nights. Being overtired can mean bags under your eyes, constant yawning and feeling grouchy all day, but did you know that a lack of sleep can have a detrimental affect on your health too?
Sleep problems can play havoc with your body in ways you wouldn’t even realise, which is why it’s so important to get your rest. Easier said than done, hey?
Most of us need around eight hours of good quality sleep a night, although how much sleep you really need varies depending on age. Basically, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing to climb back into bed, you’re not getting enough zs.
We’ve rounded up some of the problems your bad night’s sleep could be causing, and our top tips on battling bedtime and getting a full night’s kip. Here’s how lack of sleep affects your body.
How lack of sleep affects your body
How lack of sleep affects your body 1: Sight
Our eyes are one of the first parts of us that seems to suffer from lack of sleep, from the moment we wake up blearly-eyed. If you haven’t rested your eyes properly, then your vision may become blurred and they will turn red, as they become bloodshot. This is a result of blood vessels near the surface of the eye getting wider.
The other most obvious effect on your eyes is the dark circles that show up. The skin beneath our eyes is the most fragile and thinnest, so blood vessels getting wider make it look darker.
GoodtoKnow sleep tip: Stick to the same bedtime every night. We all have an inbuilt clock called circadian rhythm and if our sleep patterns change, then our body becomes confused. Staying up to watch that programme might seem like a good idea, but get to bed on time and catch up with it the next day instead!
How lack of sleep affects your body 2: Skin
You can usually tell when someone is having trouble sleeping just by looking at their skin. Lack of sleep will leave you with spotty, dry skin, which is most noticeable on the face where your skin is thinnest and most sensitive.
Your skin will also start to get scaly and possibly flaky after a few bad nights’ sleep as it gets more and more dehydrated.
GoodtoKnow sleep tip: Take a warm bath. Your body naturally cools down while you sleep, so if you are warm before getting into bed, it means as your body cools down, you will naturally fall into a deep slumber. Make sure you moisturise before bed too!
How lack of sleep affects your body 3: Heart
Lack of sleep doubles the risk to your heart, according to recent research. In fact a study found that people who cut their sleep patterns from seven down to five hours a night were twice as likely to die from heart disease.
Lack of sleep effectively makes the body panic and ups the number of stress hormones being released into the body. This increases blood pressure and is one of the biggest risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.
GoodtoKnow sleep tip: Don’t look at the clock. If you wake up in the night, seeing the time naturally makes you more anxious and will make it more difficult to drift off again. Turn it away from you to stop you seeing it accidentally (and don’t even think of checking your phone either!)
How lack of sleep affects your body 4: Stomach
There has been research that suggests that lack of sleep can influence obesity.
Sounds extreme, but there are two hormones in your body that work opposite each other to control how hungry you feel. If the level of one hormone – called leptin – is low and the other – called ghrelin – is high, then signals are sent to your brain to say you are hungry. If the levels are reversed, then your brain thinks you are full.
Lack of sleep over a few nights has shown that the levels of these two hormones change enough to make you crave high-calorie foods.
GoodtoKnow sleep tip: Don’t drink before bed. Although alcohol helps you go to sleep, it will also make sure you wake up throughout the night and your quality of sleep will be worse than normal. Just say no to that night cap!
How lack of sleep affects your body 5: Brain
There are strong links between lack of sleep and depression and our mental health. In the short-term, most of us will have experienced a slowing down of thought when we’re tired. In fact, just one night of poor sleep affects your learning ability and memory. After two consecutive nights of insomnia, your reactions will slow down and you’ll start to make mistakes.
Mental illness has also been linked to long-term lack of sleep. Sleep basically restores our emotional brain circuits and the longer these aren’t recharged, the worse the long-term effect. Lack of sleep can’t cause depression, but it can make any symptoms you have a lot worse.
GoodtoKnow sleep tip: Have a hot milky drink. It may sound like something your mum might say, but it really does help. Milk is high in calcium which experts say is good for sleep. It’s also rich in something called tryptophan which the body converts into serotonin – a natural hormone in the body that can make you sleepy.
How lack of sleep affects your body 6: Colon and breasts
Recent studies have shown that people who do shift work and work nights are more likely to get breast cancer and colon cancer. Scientists think that exposure to light at night lowers the levels of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is thought to protect against cancer by affecting levels of other hormones, such as oestrogen. Melatonin basically is an anti-cancer hormone and protects the body against tumours.
Experts believe that this is just as likely to happen to people who suffer from disturbed sleep and insomnia.
GoodtoKnow sleep tip: Buy a new bed. If your bed is more than 10 years old, then it could be well past its sell-by date. Its structure is likely to be 75% worse than when it was new and will disrupt your sleep. A new bed, according to research, will give you an average of 42 minutes every night. We’ll take that!
Do you suffer with sleeplessness? What do you do to combat it? We’d love to hear your stories over on our Facebook page!