4 Things That Happen To Your Body When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

What’s the first thing to suffer when you’re stressed out? Probably your sleep. And when you’re going through a bit of a funk—you’re stressed, you don’t have the best diet, and you’re not exercising regularly—you’ll likely experience a poor quality of sleep as well.

By Gina Florio3 min read
shutterstock 710651131
Shutterstock/Shift Drive

Sleep is the one thing that most people ignore when it comes to their health and wellness. This is especially true of the younger people out there. We sometimes think we’re invincible because hey, we’ll sleep when we’re dead, right?

This is the wrong mindset to have about sleep. Any time a client comes to me with big health goals or weight-loss dreams, the very first thing we work on is their sleep pattern—their bedtime routine, their sleep hygiene (yes, that’s a thing), and all the daytime habits that affect sleep. Because when you commit to improving your sleep, you automatically end up fixing your diet, your eating schedule, how often you exercise, your stress levels, and even how much time a day you spend in silence or meditation. 

Sleep is the bedrock of our health, and when it’s not in good shape, it negatively affects the rest of our lives. Here are four things that happen to your body when you don’t get enough sleep:

Your Short Term Memory Declines 

When you get good quality sleep, you’re setting up your brain to store memories better and make more new memories. Studies have shown that the more sleep spindles (powerful bursts of electrical activity) present during stage 2 of non-REM sleep, the more the participants remembered from their educational lessons when they woke up. Other studies have shown that students retain more information from the day before after they get a full eight hours of sleep. 

Studies have shown that students retain more information from the day before after they get a full eight hours of sleep.

It’s no question that your brain thrives on high-quality sleep. Even if you’re well past the age of schooling, there are plenty of opportunities during your workday for short-term memory to come in handy. Whether you want to remember everyone’s name at your new job, all the after-school activities your kids have lined up, or the order of your presentation without needing notes, a good night’s sleep will help you get there. 

Your Metabolism Slows Down

Nobody enjoys having a slow metabolism, and while the speed of your metabolism depends largely on your genetics, your lifestyle choices certainly contribute to how quickly your body is able to process the food you eat. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can cause dysregulation in your metabolic capability and endocrine function. A study in which participants slept only four hours for six days straight showed a reduced glucose tolerance by 40% as well as increased ghrelin hormone (this is your hunger hormone).

Your body would process food more slowly, yet you would feel hungry more often. 

That means your body would process food more slowly, yet you would feel hungry more often. This is not a recipe for success. With this combination, you could end up overeating, eating the wrong foods, or just feeling very sluggish and rundown. 

You Experience Abnormal (and Unhappy) Mood Swings

This is not an urban myth. When you don’t get proper sleep, you turn into a cranky, moody version of yourself. That’s because your brain isn’t able to function as normally as usual. A 2015 study at Johns Hopkins University showed that frequently waking up through the night actually has a more powerful effect on your mood than reduced sleep. In fact, there’s such a strong connection between clinical depression and sleep issues that mental health professionals won’t even diagnose depression in someone who isn’t showing signs of sleep disruption. 

Frequently waking up through the night actually has a more powerful effect on your mood than reduced sleep. 

Studies have shown that a lack of sleep causes the deep emotional centers in the brain (just above and behind a section called the amygdala) to become hyperactive. This causes you to swing excessively between extremes of positive and negative emotion. It’s no wonder you feel like screaming at your boyfriend when he forgets to do a simple favor for you after a night of very little sleep. Sleep more to even out your moods. 

Your Immune System Lowers 

Did you ever stay up for three nights in a row during college to cram for an exam—only to realize the next day that you were feeling a little sick? This is not uncommon. When you sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, but if you don’t get enough sleep your body ends producing fewer cytokines than it needs. However, in times of stress or if your body is experiencing inflammation, your body needs those extra cytokines to guard itself against illness or infection. Additionally, a lack of sleep results in a reduction of infection-fighting antibodies

When you sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines.

The research is clear: if you want to stay healthy and far away from sickness, get good quality shut-eye every single night. 

Tips for Getting Better Sleep 

If you’re struggling with insomnia or disrupted sleep, there are a few basic steps you can take to get back on track:

  • Turn off all electronics 1-2 hours before bed. Seriously—off. 

  • Make sure your room is on the cooler side as this helps your body core temperature drop so you can relax. 

  • Wear earplugs and an eye mask for a dark, quiet sleep. 

  • Finish heavy meals and strenuous workouts at least two hours before bed. 

  • Get direct sunlight every day, preferably at sunrise, midday, and sunset. This will inform your internal clock of when it’s time to naturally produce melatonin and go to sleep.

  • Don’t drink alcohol at night. 

  • Stop drinking caffeine by 11am each day. 

Closing Thoughts

Getting quality sleep consistently is key to good mental and physical health. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to improve your sleep experience.