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What happens if we don't get enough sleep

Many of us want to sleep as little as possible. There is so much to do that sleep seems like a waste of time. Yet sleep, an essential time of rest and rejuvenation, benefits our minds and bodies in many ways. When you continuously don't get the amount of sleep you need, you begin to pay for it in daytime drowsiness, trouble concentrating, irritability, increased risk of falls and accidents, and lower productivity.

Sleep benefits to our mood, memory and concentration

Have you ever pulled an "all nighter" to study for a final exam, only to find that you can barely remember what you studied during the test? Sleep helps to organize memories, solidify learning, and improve concentration. Proper sleep, especially sleep where you are actively dreaming (REM sleep), regulates mood as well. Lack of sleep can make you irritable and cranky, affecting your emotions, social interaction, and decision making. Sleep deprivation also affects motor skills, enough to be similar to driving while drunk if seriously sleep deprived. Driver fatigue, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, causes over 100,000 accidents and 1500 deaths each year.

Sleep benefits to our immune system, nervous system and development

Immune system. It doesn't seem fair. Right when you are exhausted after a stressful move or a big project at work, you come down with a cold. That's no accident - sleep is essential to the immune system. Without adequate sleep, the immune system becomes weak, and the body becomes more vulnerable to infection and disease.

Nervous system. Sleep is also a time of rest and repair to neurons. Neurons are the freeways of the nervous system that carry out both voluntary commands, like moving your arm, and involuntary commands, like breathing and digestive processes.

Brain cellular repair, replenishment and growth

Recent studies have suggested that sleep downtime of the brain, so active during the day, may replenish dwindling energy stores that cells need to function, repair cellular damage caused by our busy metabolism, and even grow new nerve cells in the brain.

Hormone release. Many hormones, substances produced to trigger or regulate particular body functions, are timed to release during sleep or right before sleep. Growth hormones, for example, are released during sleep, vital to growing children but also for restorative processes like muscle repair.

Sleep deprivation and how it affects your life

How do you know if you're getting the sleep you need? Sleep deprivation occurs when you are not sleeping the right amount for your individual needs. Sometimes sleep deprivation is short term, like a college student pulling an all nighter. Chronic sleep deprivation often occurs in professions who work long hours, caregivers with multiple responsibilities, a concurrent sleep disorder or another disease that interferes with sleep. If you are falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, regularly need an alarm clock to wake up, or feel the need for frequent naps during the day, it is very likely you are sleep deprived.

Other signs you may be suffering from sleep deprivation include:

  • difficulty waking up in the morning
  • poor performance in school, on the job, or in sports
  • increased clumsiness
  • difficulty making decisions
  • falling asleep during work or class
  • feeling especially moody or irritated

Sleep deprivation can be dangerous not only to you but others, since it affects motor skills like driving. Chronic sleep deprivation is also thought to cause long term changes to the body, which contribute to increased risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Source: Helpguide. Understanding Sleep. Available here

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