What getting no sleep really means for your body

There's more to not getting enough sleep than just feeling tired.

There's more to not getting enough sleep than just feeling tired. Photo: Getty

Good sleep is one of the keys to having a good life – a solid night’s rest is not just something you desire, it’s something your body desperately needs.

The effects of an interrupted or too-short sleep cycle over time are more significant than bags under your eyes or a serious case of the grumps – a lack of sleep could be doing your body serious harm.

Dr Siobhan Banks is an expert in sleep and sleep disorders at the Centre for Sleep Research and the University of South Australia. She told The New Daily there are three main areas where a chronic lack of sleep can be hurting you most.

“One of the major things that we’ve realised is that glucose metabolism is affected by sleep loss and this means that our bodies are more susceptible to weight gain,” she explained.

“We also know that timing of what we eat is significant. If you eat late at night your body is not able to metabolise that food effectively.”

Dr Banks said this problem was particularly pronounced for shift workers, but anybody could be affected by eating right before bed.

Sleep deprivation also changes what we want to eat. “You tend to crave more sugary and fatty foods when you’re sleep deprived,” she said, “and your ability to resist those foods is also affected by sleep deprivation – it’s a perfect storm.”

Signs you need more sleep

  • Nodding off when you don’t want to (in meetings, during your favourite TV show in the evening, etc.)
  • Feeling very groggy and finding it difficult to get up in the morning
  • Short-term memory problems like constantly losing your keys or sunglasses
  • Irritability and feeling like you get stressed very easily
  • Binge sleeping at the end of the week
Lack of motivation and zoning out regularly are also signs that you're not getting enough sleep

Lack of motivation and zoning out regularly are also signs that you’re not getting enough sleep.

The effects of sleep deprivation on your diet are in fact very similar to stress or emotional eating, and that is the second major area of impact on your health.

Cortisol is the hormone your body produces under stress and those levels are supposed to decline as we approach the evening, but that doesn’t happen for people who are not getting enough kip.

“What we see is those levels stay up,” Dr Banks explained. “This puts pressure on the heart and cardiovascular system so we see sleep deprivation leads to negative outcomes for your heart health as well.”

There is a greater risk for people who regularly sleep under six hours for both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Finally, chronic sleep deprivation is known to have links with an increased risk of various types of cancers including breast cancer, which affects one in eight women. It’s debated that sleep deprivation can increase the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence, although exactly why is still unknown.

“We think that it might be about getting light exposure during your sleep hours that increases the risk of cancer,” Dr Banks said. “The suppression of melatonin at night could be the reason, but it’s a hot area of debate right now.”

If you don’t get enough sleep, it’s not all doom and gloom. Try and go to bed that bit earlier, don’t eat during the night, watch your caffeine intake, and if you feel like you have a sleep problem, consult a GP or sleep specialist doctor.

The New Daily is a media partner of the Women in Super Mother’s Day Classic, which takes place in 100 locations around Australia on Sunday May 14, raising money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation to help fund breast cancer research.


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