The Real Cost of Not Sleeping

The Real Cost of Not Sleeping

January 14, 2019

If you’re like most of us, sometimes it doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day. With so much to get done, it might seem like you can sacrifice a few hours of sleep a night. How much harm could it really do, if you’re getting more accomplished, right? As it turns out, the cost of not sleeping is extremely high.



Not Sleeping Contributes to a Loss of Neurons

According to the Journal of Neuroscience, extended wakefulness can injure neurons that are critical to cognition and alertness. Researchers studied mice after periods of normal rest, short wakefulness, or extended wakefulness, and their findings determined that the mice were able to bounce back from short-term sleep loss. However, extended wakefulness contributed to dramatic cell death.  Loss of neurons is never good, so try not to stay awake for too long without getting a good night’s solid rest. 

Sleep Deprivation Alters the Immune system

Did you know that consistently missing sleep depresses your immune system? You may have anecdotal evidence in the form of catching a cold following a tough week. Research has shown that total and partial sleep deprivation increases white blood cell count, similar to what happens when we’re sick. Sleep deprivation also contributes to a decrease in natural killer and other immune cell function. Don’t miss sleep, or the body will find a way to shut down and care for itself, thus sleeping through the days when you’re sick.

Lack of Sleep Creates Negative Emotions

Too high of stress response can limit your contextualization of emotional memories and contribute to negative associations with the entire day. According to research, the better specific recall was shown six days later with a moderate stress experience after a task. Participants were able to better contextualize their memories, rather than blanket the emotional response over the entire task.  For you, this could mean the difference between being mad at the entire office or just frustrated with one specific meeting. To help your memory, get some sleep to clear this stress and counteract cortisol, the stress hormone.

Shortened Sleep Impairs Athletic and Exercise Ability

Sleep extension improved serving accuracy in tennis players, sprint times and shooting accuracy in basketball players, and daytime alertness and reaction time in non-athletes. In essence, those who slept more performed better. If you avoid sleep, you not only put yourself at risk for bad workouts, but you also risk poor performance in your daily activities.

Loss of Sleep Reduces Insulin Sensitivity

Your body secretes insulin as a signal to absorb glucose from the bloodstream to be used for energy. When we lose sleep, our cells start ignoring those signals, and we become less sensitive to insulin. One study found a 24-hour sleep restriction decreased insulin sensitivity, and another showed impaired insulin sensitivity when subjects only slept five hours a night. Therefore, lack of sleep keeps sugar in the blood, raises glucose levels, and puts you at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Inadequate Sleep Increases Obesity Risk

In that same vein, inadequate sleep increases the risk of obesity. Even if you don’t experience something as severe as prediabetes, sleep interrupts your natural ghrelin and leptin levels. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, lack of sleep also gives us opportunities to eat late at night and may make us too tired to exercise. This leads to a massive appetite and a larger caloric intake. Couple that with the reduction in insulin sensitivity, and you can see how that might be an issue.

What’s the bottom line? Catch your Z’s nightly, as the cost of not sleeping definitely outweighs the benefits.

-Kimber Rozier, CSCS