Consequences of Not Sleeping


With a new college semester looming, I thought it was appropriate to look at the love/hate relationship we all have with sleep. When life gets busy, sleep is often the first activity on the chopping block. There always feels as if there’s so many other more important activities than laying in bed doing nothing. Phrases such as “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” frequently cross our minds when other activities take precedence.

The problem with this mindset is that getting less sleep than your body needs has a long list of unfortunate consequences that include:

  • Less energy (obviously).
  • Problems with remembering things.
  • Weight gain.
  • More susceptible to illness.
  • Body doesn’t repair itself as effectively (including muscles after working out).
  • Higher risk for heart complications, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes.

Obviously we want to avoid those things as much as possible. The problem with sleep is, without knowledge of what’s “too much” or “too little,” it’s hard to avoid these consequences. In an effort to help people understand sleep a little more, here are a few questions I’m going to answer.

The Questions

Why is getting enough sleep good for my health?

What happens if I don’t get enough sleep?

What constitutes “enough” sleep?

I have troubles falling asleep, so how can I possibly get enough of it?

 Why is getting enough sleep good for my health?

For many people, enjoying the act of sleeping is a good enough reason to sleep as much as possible. Luckily for those that would rather be productive than “waste” time, there’s many other benefits as well that may change your mind. These benefits range from simply having energy, to getting stronger and staying healthy.

The most obvious benefit of sleep is that you have energy. This is pretty obvious so I don’t really feel like wasting a ton of time talking about it. Getting a full nights rest gives you energy, focus, and happiness. Who doesn’t want that?

A benefit most don’t think about is the repair your body does during your sleep. While your awake the body is repairing itself, but it has a lot more information to process and things to worry about. When sleeping, a lot of these distractions are gone and the body uses the down time to repair itself. The body is constantly replacing dead cells with new ones and keeping itself running smooth. When there’s an injury, illness, or internal problem the repair process goes into overdrive while sleeping. Without this it’d take a lot longer to get healthy again.

When it comes to working out and exercising, getting enough sleep is a really important part that many people ignore. Whether it be lifting weights or running; whenever muscles are used, microscopic rips happen. When the muscle repairs itself, the space in those rips is filled in and the muscle comes back bigger and stronger. Sleeping is the period of time when the majority of that repair occurs.

What happens if I don’t get enough sleep?

It’s easy to forget how crucial to our health sleep is. In addition to not gaining the above benefits fully, quite a few negative consequences happen. Lack of sleep contributes to memory or focus issues, weight gain, and serious health complications.

Getting a new memory to stick in the brain and being able to remember it involves 3 phases. The first phase, called acquisition, is when you actually learn the memory or skill. The second phase, called consolidation, is when the memory or skill gets implanted in the brain. The third phase, called recall, involves having the ability to remember the information later on when you need it. Of these three phases, acquisition and recall happen when you’re awake. Consolidation, however, happens while your sleeping. Gaining new information and skills to stick in the brain require an adequate amount of sleep. Without enough sleep, we would have a much harder time remembering the things we learn. (Sleep 2013.)

Lack of sleep can also have a huge effect on our weight. When we don’t get enough sleep our hormones get all out of whack (even more than just hating all human beings and life in general). Two hormones in particular, named Leptin and Ghrelin, get affected. Leptin is the hormone that sends the signal to your brain that you’re full and satisfied. When sleep is lacking, leptin levels drop, which means you don’t feel satisfied after eating. Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates appetite. Ghrelin levels rise when sleep levels are low and this results in an increased appetite. These two things combine to set the stage for overeating. (Colette 2013.)

Serious health complications can also creep up when there’s a reoccurring theme of not sleeping enough. Through lots of studies, scientists have shown that people who don’t sleep enough are more susceptible to serious health issues that include heart complications, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. These are all things the body works against while sleeping. Not getting enough sleep opens the door to these serious health issues.

What Constitutes “Enough” Sleep?

Just like everything else in life, “enough” sleep varies widely from person to person. One person may be completely healthy with six and a half hours of sleep a night and another my need to get eight to stay totally healthy. The interesting thing about sleep, is that negative health issues arise both when you get too little sleep and too much sleep.

Some places such as sleepfoundation recommend adults getting between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, while others such as time, recommend six and half to seven and a half hours of sleep a night. Having such a wide range can confuse people. Why are they so different? Whenever you read about any amount of sleep being recommended it’s usually tied to some kind of research study or experiment. These studies are typically testing to see what effect the amount of sleep has on different consequences (heart disease, diabetes, etc.). Each different consequence has had it’s own study done and because of that, you will see a wide range of “optimal” sleep ranges.

When you look at each recommendation as a whole though, you start to get a feel for what’s a good target to shoot for. Taking all the different sources I researched, anywhere from 6.5-8 hours of sleep a night seems to be the best. Anything under 6.5 hours and you open yourself up to health problems. Similarly, anything over 8 hours and the possibility for problems also arises.

I have troubles falling asleep, so how can I possibly get enough of it?

Many people experience problems falling asleep. I’ve often sat there worrying about not being able to fall asleep, which causes me to not fall asleep. It’s a vicious cycle. The following are a few things I’ve either used or read studies on to help falling asleep get easier.

Don’t read, watch, TV, or eat in your bed. Basically, don’t use it for anything other than it’s intended purposes. Personally, I even try to avoid spending long periods of time in my room throughout the day. Doing those things while in bed associates the bed with things other than sleeping which makes it hard to fall asleep at the end of the day.

Take an hour or two without electronics before bed. Just relax. If you’re staring into a screen moments before hopping into bed, your brain isn’t going to be in the ideal state to go to sleep. Take some time before jumping in bed to just relax. I like to read a bit (just not in bed) before going to sleep.

I saved the best for last. Exercise! Everyone knows the feeling of being exhausted from running around and being active all day. Make sure you get some exercise in during the day and you’ll fall asleep much easier. Personally, I find that only the days where I have trouble falling asleep are when I don’t exercise at all. If I’ve done any exercise throughout the day, I fall asleep within minutes.

What are your favorite ways to fall asleep easier?

-Adam Conway



2 thoughts on “Consequences of Not Sleeping

  1. Very concise! When I’m doing a hard problem set or project I’ve found that sleeping on it is probably the most effective way to figure out solutions. I guess that’d be the consolidation step you mentioned.

    What I hadn’t been doing until recently was the no electronics within an hour before sleep. Once I started doing that, I’ve been hitting the same falling asleep time each night. I guess the electronics just make our brains go into hyper activity. Now I read or write (on paper).

    I definitely believe getting enough sleep isn’t emphasized enough for most college students. Or it’s emphasized negatively: “I’m such a dedicated student that I’ve only slept 4 hrs/night for the last week!”

    • I totally agree! Sleep is pretty crucial to figure solutions out among other things. And yeah, some people use lack of sleep as a badge of honor or a desirable thing. Craziness

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