Side effects of poor sleep

Published February 19, 2015

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How we feel when we’re awake is greatly impacted by how well we sleep. For our health and well-being, sleep is vital, and when we have enough we’re likely to feel refreshed, energetic and productive. In contrast, poor quality sleep makes it difficult to function throughout the day and may lead to long-term health problems if it’s not addressed. Here’s some of the side effects associated with poor sleep:

  • Impaired performance – Reducing your nighttime sleep by just two hours can reduce alertness, shorten attention span, slow reaction time, affect memory and concentration, decrease work efficiency and increase the likelihood of making mistakes and bad decisions.1
  • Mood changes – Short-term sleep deprivation can cause mood changes and make us more irritable and temperamental the following day.1 Chronic sleep debt can lead to mood conditions such as mild anxiety.2
  • Decreased immunity – Sleep has a restorative effect on our immune processes. The opposite is true for when we don’t have enough sleep; when we consistently get less sleep than we need, it can impair our immune defences and increase our susceptibility to illness.3
  • Weight gain – Shorter sleep duration appears to lead to weight gain and a higher body mass index (BMI).4 Sleep loss increases the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite and makes us feel hungry. It also decreases the production of the satiety hormone leptin, which prompts us to stop eating.4 Being tired in itself can also lead to weight gain as we may rely on comforting calorie-dense foods to supply the energy we lack.
  • Accidents and injuries – Staying awake for 24 hours leads to reduced hand-eye coordination that is similar to having a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. This is why sleep deprivation increases the risk of road accidents and occupational injuries.1
  • Lowered libido and fertility – Men and women who don’t obtain enough quality sleep appear to have lower libidos.2 Regular sleep disruptions may also affect fertility by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones.2

There’s only one way to compensate for a lack of sleep and that’s to get more. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, check out our tips on ‘What to do before bed to get a good night’s sleep.’

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