9 surprising symptoms of sleep deprivation

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Qualified Life Coach
Ask Marianna

11 September 2018

1 – Sleep deprivation makes you more accident prone!

Sleep deprivation is commonly accompanied by symptoms such as drowsiness, poor cognitive function and clumsiness so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that it can make you more accident prone! If you’re not able to concentrate on what you’re doing or find your balance thrown off then accidents are inevitable.

In fact, some studies have even shown that your performance whilst sleep deprived is similar to your performance whilst under the influence of alcohol!1 This is quite worrying, especially when you consider how many of us are driving on the roads after having very little sleep. In the US, it’s estimated that fatigue is a leading cause in 100,000 auto crashes a year2  – a scary statistic! 

That’s why if you are feeling drowsy or fatigued, I recommend staying away from your car or operating heavy machinery. Don’t just shrug it off or ignore how you’re feeling, trust me, it’s definitely not worth the risk!

2 – Sleep deprivation can affect your libido

Feeling tired and fatigued hardly puts you in the mood, as it were, so sleep deprivation can definitely impact your libido. However, studies have shown that sleep conditions like sleep apnoea, not only affect how much sleep you’re getting but can sometimes be linked with lower level of testosterone in men!3  

This is because sleep is a crucial time for your hormones and testosterone in particular as your production of it is dependent on you getting plenty of restful REM sleep and, if your sleep is being interrupted regularly, this can throw things off! If you want to read more about how sleep impacts your hormones, please take a look at my blog ‘What does sleep deprivation do to your hormones?’ for more information.

3 – Sleep deprivation can cause premature ageing

As our Skin Advisor Felicity details in her blog, ‘Is beauty sleep real?’ beauty sleep isn’t just a myth and sleep deprivation can have some very real consequences for your complexion.  Collagen, a structural protein that’s essential for healthy, youthful-looking skin, is mainly produced at night while you sleep. If you’re not getting the sleep you need, your production of collagen can suffer which can result in your skin losing its firmness and elasticity.

You also have to consider that sleep deprivation can sometimes impact your hormone balance, particularly your levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone which is an integral component of your sleep-wake cycle. When your levels of cortisol are elevated it can suppress the ‘youth hormone’ DHEA, triggering premature ageing whilst also inhibiting your ability to recover from free-radical damage.

4 – Sleep deprivation can impact your waistline

You’re probably aware that, after a poor night of sleep, you might be more likely to reach for the cookie jar. Sleep deprivation, as I discuss in my blog ‘Is your lack of sleep making you overeat?’ can stimulate food cravings, particularly for sugar and carb-heavy snacks. 

This is because, when you’re deprived of sleep, it can affect the hormones that regulate your appetite. After a poor night of sleep, your levels of ghrelin, the hormone that encourages your appetite, will be raised and this triggers food cravings. If you keep giving into these cravings, you can bet that your waistline will eventually be impacted. Unfortunately, this can turn into a vicious cycle as sugary, carb-heavy foods can cause fluctuations with your blood sugar levels, keeping you awake at night.

5 – Sleep deprivation makes you feel more impulsive

Okay, so it’s not exactly a secret that sleep deprivation can affect your mood but impulsiveness isn’t something you might usually ascribe to a poor night’s sleep. However, studies have shown that sleep deprivation can negatively impact your self-control, making you exhibit more impulsive behaviour.4 Of course, this can sometimes have far reaching consequences when it comes to your personal and professional life as you may find yourself making poorer decisions, whether it’s overspending or not having your priorities in order. 

6 – Sleep deprivation can make you feel more alert

If you’ve read my blog, ‘Is sleep deprivation making you more anxious?’ you’ll know that a poor night’s sleep can be a recipe for increased bouts of stress and anxiety during the day. These turbulent emotions can have an impact on your nervous system, stimulating your fight or flight reflexes. 

Once these reflexes are triggered, your body is immediately propelled into a state of emergency. Your nervous system has no sense of moderation so, even if your stress isn’t related to a life threatening event, your body may still treat it as though it is.  Nutrients will be redirected towards crucial organs like your heart and lungs, your blood vessels will dilate, your digestive system will slow down and cortisol will be released.

As I’ve already mentioned, cortisol is a key component of your sleep-wake cycle, usually being secreted in the early hours of the morning to help your mind and body to wake up. If cortisol is being released during the day, it can have a similar effect and as a result you may find yourself feeling more awake and alert than expected – just be aware that when your cortisol levels settle, the resulting crash can make those pesky afternoon slumps even worse, which brings me to my next point….

7 – Sleep deprivation makes those afternoon slumps even worse!

This might not be the most surprising entrant on this list but hear me out. I’m sure you’re all familiar with what an afternoon slump is – the clock strikes three in the afternoon and what’s left of your brainpower seems to pack its bags and call it a day. You feel mentally drained, unable to concentrate and find yourself stifling a yawn every couple of minutes. 

This happens to everyone and usually, your blood sugar levels are involved. Sandwiches, bagels and pastas are always popular lunch options but these simple carbs can cause your blood sugar levels to spike before this rapid escalation is followed by an even more drastic drop. When your blood sugar levels plummet it can affect your energy levels. 

It also doesn’t help that for most of us, drinking water is not a priority. Why have a glass of cold water when you can keep yourself fuelled with caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee? Unfortunately, this attitude can increase your susceptibility to dehydration which, amongst other things, can impact your cognitive functions!

Add a bad night’s sleep into the mix and you have the perfect recipe for a disastrous afternoon slump – remember sleep deprivation can cause cravings so not only will you feel tired and grumpy, you will also be more vulnerable to the allure of a carb-heavy lunch and sugar snacks, further perpetuating the problem!

8 – Sleep deprivation affects your blood pressure

It’s widely believed that sleep deprivation can be linked to high blood pressure, with those sleeping fewer than six hours a night thought to be particularly at risk. One recent study monitored the sleep habits of 323 healthy female participants and found that even when they displayed minor sleep problems but still managed to achieve the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night, they were still more susceptible to high blood pressure.5  

The underlying link seems to be with how poor sleep affects your nervous system, leading to increased cases of stress and anxiety. When you experience these emotions, your body will release a surge of hormones that temporarily increase your blood pressure.

These short-term spikes won’t elevate your blood pressure for long but, if occasional bouts of stress turn into daily, chronic experiences then it may cause some damage to your blood vessels.6 It also doesn’t help that both stress and sleep deprivation encourage other habits that can impact your blood pressure levels, such as unhealthy eating habits or a dependency on substances like caffeine and alcohol.

9 – Sleep deprivation lowers your alcohol tolerance

Finally, sleep deprivation is thought to lower your tolerance to alcohol. Again, this comes down to how sleep deprivation affects your cognitive functions, slowing down your mental processes and impairing your judgement. If you then decided to have a couple of glasses of wine, this can make things worse as alcohol can work as a sedative. 

Therefore, if you drink alcohol whilst you’re tired it can make you feel drunker than you actually are. Not ideal. Unfortunately, some people do seem to treat alcohol as a sleep aid which, as I mention in my blog, ‘Does alcohol really help you sleep?’ is definitely not true and can lead to further problems!







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