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This Is Your Body on Sleep Deprivation

by Brittany Risher
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This Is Your Body on Sleep Deprivation

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of Americans aren’t regularly getting enough of it.

Although the exact details of why we sleep are still being investigated, we know it’s hard to function without it. As sleep science pioneer Allan Rechtschaffen, PhD, is often quoted as saying, “If sleep doesn’t serve some vital function, it is the biggest mistake evolution ever made.”

Insufficient sleep causes changes in more than 700 genes, one study found. Here’s how that plays out in your body.

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  • Skee

    Yep, I need to work on my sleep game! Averaging 4-5hrs a night

    • Catherine Vidinha

      Definitely not enough, I’d say. While people’s needs vary from individual to individual, as well as by circumstances, most doctors seem to agree on a minimum of 6 hours being necessary on average.
      For a while I tried polyphasic sleep, and my body seems naturally inclined to two split shifts, each 4 – 5 hours–if you can make that work with professional and personal commitments, all the better, but it’s tricky.
      I averaged 4 – 5 hours total daily for about a year, and I was moody, easily confused, clumsy, overeating junk food, gaining weight, depressed, and anxious, and I had zero energy. The danger of driving while drunk on sleeplessness is scary enough on its own.
      The first question is circumstance or symptom–is environment or lifestyle hindering sleep or is something health related interfering? Trial and error helps with the former, blood tests and sleep studies should aid with the latter.

  • Tim

    Scary stuff. A recent change in my routine has left me getting less sleep than I am used to, and I can see the effects in my workout numbers, struggling to stay awake in the afternoons, and not being able to sleep in and catch up at the weekend because any disturbance after 5am has me awake for the day.

    • Catherine Vidinha

      The thing that most startled me was that my trainer could tell just by my breathing during a workout whether I had gotten a good night’s sleep the night before or not. You think you’re doing a good job compensating with coffee or Red Bull, concealer under the eyes, or whatever, but your body is still telling you loud and clear it needs something you’re not giving it.
      (Not to mention diminished cognitive function, dexterity, mood, awareness, etc.)

  • Nikki Cleaveland Norman

    I average 4 – 4/12 hours a night. I NEED more sleep.

    • epickett

      So do you only get 4 or so hours of sleep because you go to bed too late, or because you keep waking up?

      • Nikki Cleaveland Norman

        Keep waking up.

        • epickett

          I assume you’ve done all the ‘classic’ remedies – no caffeine or electronic devices after a certain time, etc. Maybe try Chamomile tea or warm milk… Have you done a sleep study yet? Maybe their technicians can suggest a remedy…

        • Catherine Vidinha

          DEFINITELY go for a sleep study!
          For example, if you have sleep apnea bad enough to be fully conscious of waking up repeatedly, you could be in genuine danger of doing short- and long-term damage to yourself.
          You also should have a complete blood panel done–particularly a fasting blood test–to determine your cholesterol and sugar levels… the issue could be metabolic or postural.
          The results should point the way to proper treatment options, including possible medications to mitigate the symptoms or treat the underlying condition.
          Good luck!

  • MarkInCA

    How much is enough sleep?