While one or two nights of sleep deprivation won’t affect your health long term—even though it feels miserable in the short term—chronic lack of sleep can negatively impact almost all aspects of your waking life.
Why is sleep important? The short answer is that sleep is a time for your body to restore itself. Rest is necessary to help regulate, repair, or refresh everything from your central nervous system to your muscles to your brain. The effects of poor sleep are often brushed aside by those who feel pressured by social, academic, or work obligations, or even just lured into a phone or television binge. If you’re someone who doesn’t sleep enough, you’re not alone: about one-third of adult Americans regularly get less than 7 hours of sleep a night, according to the most recent numbers released by the CDC.
Find out the reasons why sleep is important below—and what happens when you’re sleep-deprived.
Brain Fog and Loss of Concentration
If you don’t sleep enough, the first thing you’ll notice is your mind being more muddled since sleep is imperative to proper brain functioning. There have been several studies demonstrating the deleterious effects of not sleeping enough. In one study, medical interns that were required to work more than 24 hours had 36% more serious medical errors than interns who had a less intense schedule.
In addition to being prone to making mistakes, being sleepy makes it harder to learn something or focus. These issues may mean you might not perform as well at school or work. In fact, a brain that’s sleep-deprived is similar to being drunk.
If you’re very sleep-deprived, you might even fall into what’s called “microsleep.” A microsleep is an uncontrollable period of sleep that occurs suddenly for several seconds, sometimes when you’re in the middle of an important activity like driving. It can occur any time you’re sleep-deprived, but warning signs that may point to the onset of a microsleep include lots of yawning, sudden body jerks, excessive blinking, and trouble keeping your eyes open.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms above, you should stop what you’re doing to get rest—especially if you’re behind the wheel.
Bad Mood and Poor Emotion Regulation
A night of quality shuteye is essential for mood and emotional regulation. Specifically, good sleep helps improve your frustration tolerance and your ability to avoid reacting to a bad day at work or interaction with a rude customer, for instance. However, after a night or many nights of sleep deprivation, you may become more sensitive to stress and unable to cope with daily frustrations.
In addition, mental health problems like depression are linked to sleep quality. In fact, about 90% of people with depression suffer from sleep issues.
More Skin Issues
If you’ve ever woken up to a puffy face with your crow’s feet slightly more pronounced, you know what it’s like to look in the mirror to a rougher version of yourself. When you don’t get your beauty sleep, the stress hormone cortisol increases and interferes with your body’s ability to generate collagen, which is what keeps your skin plump and healthy-looking.
A lack of sleep can also cause inflammation in the skin, which can make conditions like acne or eczema worse.
Increase in Hunger Signals
Have you ever noticed that when you sleep poorly, the next day you have an insatiable appetite? That’s not in your mind. It’s a known scientific fact that sleep deprivation causes changes to your appetite hormones. For the sleep-deprived, you can expect higher levels of ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite, and lower levels of leptin, the hormone that suppresses it. The result? Increased hunger when you don’t really need all those extra calories.
In fact, multiple studies point to a lack of sleep as one of the main risk factors for obesity. Of course, getting 6 hours of sleep isn’t the reason why the number on the scale creeps upward. Secondary effects of not getting enough sleep like increased appetite due to sleep deprivation and the loss of motivation to exercise from fatigue are also factors.
On the other hand, individuals who sleep for a long enough duration tend to eat fewer calories because their appetite is well-regulated.
Immune System Dysfunction
Your immune system helps you fight off disease and infections through groups of proteins called cytokines. These proteins also help you sleep and regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. When you sleep, your body is busy building up your body’s defenses, and inadequate sleep means your body doesn’t have the time or ability to build up immune helpers like cytokines properly. In turn, this makes you more vulnerable to getting sick. This is why after a prolonged period of no sleep, you might find yourself under the weather.
Can I Make Up a Sleep Debt?
When searching for the answer to, “Why is sleep important?” it’s important to understand that even if you get to sleep, it’s not always enough. Nobody is perfect, and it’s unlikely that you’ll always get enough sleep. Sometimes, you need to make a deadline for work, or you have to turn in an essay in order to graduate college. These circumstances sometimes justify temporarily throwing your sleep schedule out of whack or skimping on your sleep.
Although you can’t make up for a chronic sleep deficit in one night, you can focus on getting one or two more hours of sleep the following nights to “catch up.” You may always want to consider taking a 20-minute power nap in order to overcome any fatigue you feel during the day.
Many people, especially teens, tend to oversleep on the weekends to compensate for a lack of sleep during the week. However, doing so can backfire if you sleep in for more than two hours past your usual wake-up period. Typically, waking up later means you’re pushing back your normal bedtime and disrupting your sleep schedule.
Sleeping in during the weekend can make it even harder for you to wake up once Monday morning rolls around. It’s best to keep a consistent sleep schedule, even on the weekends.
How Can I Get Good Sleep?
Good sleep is essential to your overall well-being, and there are ways to promote a healthier sleep-life balance. Here are some of our top tips to improve your sleep hygiene and get adequate sleep:
- Set up a relaxing bedroom: The first step to great quality sleep is creating a relaxing bedroom space devoid of distractions. Take out that television set and plug your phone in a distant outlet, or tuck it into a nightstand drawer. Cover any distracting bright lights from alarm clocks, fans, or other electronic devices with light-blocking stickers. Make sure you invest in a quality mattress and mattress topper, so you look forward to getting ready for bed and going to sleep.
- Know your sleep style: If you tend to get hot when you sleep, invest in a cooling copper mattress and bamboo sheets to help regulate your temperature better. Scratchy sheets or waking up sweaty can reduce your overall sleep duration and cause next-day grogginess.
- Start a bedtime ritual that’s not Netflix: Avoid using any blue-light emitting devices within an hour to two hours near when you plan to hit the hay. Too much blue light before hitting the hay can interrupt your circadian rhythm.
- Don’t exercise late: Avoid nighttime exercise, which can keep you awake for hours afterward.
- Avoid stimulants: Try to avoid ingesting stimulants any time near bedtime. And lastly, stick to a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible. Your body will adapt and you’ll start waking up and falling asleep more naturally.
- See a doctor: If you suspect you have a sleep disorder that’s contributing to a lack of sleep or poor quality sleep, it’s time to consult a physician.
Conclusion: Prioritize Sleep to Feel Better
Why is sleep important? Because it resets several physical, mental, and bodily processes so you can function the next day. One or two nights of poor sleep won’t set you back healthwise, but if it becomes a chronic issue, that’s when you’ll begin to notice the ill effects of sleep deprivation. Although many Americans don’t prioritize sleep, it’s one of the best ways to promote your health long-term. With these tips and Layla by your side, you might just find you rest a little easier at night.