Experts warn that missing out on quality sleep too many nights in a row could affect your memory, ability to learn and retain information, creativity, judgment, ability to solve problems, emotional health, productivity and your physical health. This is partially due to the new pathways created in your brain while you sleep.
Lack of sleep can increase your risk of depression, affecting your relationships and interactions with people, as well as increase your risk for getting in an auto accident. Staying awake for just 18 hours can impair your cognitive process enough to equal a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent. Make it 24 hours and the level rises to 0.10 percent, which legally equals that of a drunk driver. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatigued drivers cause roughly 100,000 car crashes every year.
“The fact is, when we look at well-rested people, they’re operating at a different level than people trying to get by on 1 or 2 hours less nightly sleep,” says Merrill Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at NIH.
The scariest side effects caused by inadequate sleep have to be the physical ones. Obesity, heart disease, weakened immune system and sensitivity to pain are just a few of the problems that skipping on shut-eye can cause. Staying up late doesn’t just give you more time to consume extra calories, it also lowers your level of leptin, a hormone that signals when you are full, and raises the appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin, leading you to consume more without realizing it. Other hormones released during sleep work to repair cell damage, boosting muscle mass and growth, and helps to control your body’s use of energy.
Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep every night, but adults should aim to get the standard 8 hours a night and adjust according to how your body reacts. Lack of slack has become such a prevalent problem in American that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared it an epidemic, with an average of 60 million adults diagnosed with some type of sleep disorder.
Lots of factors may contribute to your sleeping troubles. Things like caffeine, medications, stress, lights from electronics, naps or an irregular schedule, noise or sleeping with kids and pets can all disrupt your ability to get quality rest. Try to make the area that you sleep in as comfortable and free of distractions as possible.
If you have problems relaxing at night, try breathing exercises, special yoga poses or meditation to quiet your mind at night. Alcohol, exercise and any stimulating activity can make falling and staying asleep difficult, so look for natural remedies such as chamomile or melatonin, or see your doctor if nothing else works.
The bottom line—take sleep seriously. You could face very serious consequences if you don’t. It’s true that you’ll get to sleep when you’re dead, but don’t rush yourself there by skipping on your Zs now.