Some people need to sleep more, and others can get away with less sleep. What really matters is that everybody needs to get enough sleep to stay healthy! Not getting enough rest is equally detrimental to health as not having enough oxygen in the blood or not enough food and water in the body.

Short sleep duration is common among U.S. adults – about 1 out of every 3 Americans is sleep-deprived. Poor slumber is linked to lower sex drive, weakened immune system, memory issues, weight gain, risk of certain cancers, diabetes, and the likelihood of accidents.

Sleep quantity and quality can contribute to an increase in weight and obesity as well as your mood, work, and energy. Several sleep-related comorbidities seem to go hand-in-hand with obesity. Here, we will break it down for you!

How much sleep do we need?

We are all familiar with that awful feeling of being tired, cranky, and out of sorts throughout the day. In the past, sleep deprivation was used as a torture method. It turned out to be quite effective because people don’t tolerate sleep restrictions well.

The answer to how much sleep we need is very specific to the individual. On average, adults need approximately 7-9 hours each day; some individuals only require 4 hours of shut-eye. Based on research studies, the factors that affect how many hours of sleep you need for optimal health are:

  1. Age
  2. Physical Activity
  3. Genetics

Sleep is equally important for the body as it is for the mind.

Negative Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep significantly impacts physiological processes like digestion, the immune system, libidos, and hormone levels. Here are four consequences of insufficient sleep,

what happens when you don't get enough sleep

1. Weight Gain

As you probably know, insufficient sleep and exercise do not mix well. Obviously, It’s less likely for a sleep-deprived person to exercise or work out. For those who don’t get adequate sleep, leptin levels decrease while ghrelin levels increase. In other words, the body sends a clear message to the brain: “I feel the urge to eat, and I’m not full at all!” That’s the chemical background of an overeating session. Many epidemiological studies showed a clear connection between sleep reduction and obesity among children, adolescents, and adults.

The research team at the Clinical Sciences Research Institute (from the University of Warwick Medical School, Coventry, UK) published a cross-sectional study in 2008 to assess if the evidence supports the relationship between sleep deprivation and obesity among children and adults.

The total number of adult participants in the study was 604,509. The conclusion is clear: there is a strong connection linking obesity and not getting enough sleep in adults. [1]

2. Mental Status

When you don’t get enough sleep, your mental status completely changes. The lack of sleep “slows down“ the learning process and affects short-term memory. This creates mood swings, nervousness, and anxiety and can cause severe psychological damage.

Long-term effects are even more frightening. Sleep deprivation worsens the symptoms or, in some people, triggers unpleasant feelings. The worst of these symptoms are depression, impulsive behavior, paranoid behavior, hallucinations, and even suicidal thoughts.

Some people experience sudden sleep episodes which they are not aware of. An episode may last anywhere from a few seconds up to a few minutes and can happen anywhere, even while driving.

3. Immune System

Sleep is a strong regulator of immunological processes. Many of the immune system functions have a characteristic rhythm that relies on a sleep-wake cycle. The study published in 2011 suggests that fast-acting immune cells peak in numbers during the wake of the cycle, optimizing the body’s defense and reparational mechanisms.

Injuries and infections (due to an injury) are more likely to happen during the wake cycle; therefore, the body mobilizes its forces at that time. During the sleep cycle, processes related to forming and preserving long-lasting immunological memory became the predominant activity. [2]

A prolonged lack of sleep triggers the stress response, a complex hormonal cascade. Consequently, this initiates the production of pro-inflammatory substances that have detrimental effects on health (low-grade inflammation and immunodeficiency).

4. Endocrine System

The endocrine system is a network of organs called glands that make hormones to regulate your metabolism. Circadian rhythm and the sleep/wake cycle influence the endocrine system. The list of studies about the impact of sleep duration on metabolic health grows day by day, and based on the data gathered so far, we know that prolonged sleep restriction does the following:

–    Triggers a secretion of stress hormones
–    Increases risk of cardiovascular disease
–    Increases the risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes
–    Worsens hypertension
–    Reduces insulin sensitivity
–    Has a negative effect on cardiovascular health

In 2005, a team of researchers from The Pulmonary Center of the Boston University School of Medicine published research about the connection between sleep duration, diabetes, and impaired glucose tolerance. As a result, it turned out that a sleep duration of 6 hours or less corresponds to an increased risk of diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance (a step to diabetes). [3]

Another study published in 2010 revealed that short sleep duration is a risk factor for hypercholesterolemia [4]. Increased cholesterol is one of the leading risk factors for stroke and heart attack.

Stages of Sleep

People normally pass through five stages of sleep:

  1. Stage 1 (2-5%) – The “light sleep” stage. It consists of drifting in and out of sleep and can easily be interrupted.
  2. Stage 2 (45-55%) – More intense “light sleep” stage. An uninterrupted form of stage 1 that result in eye movement stops with slower brain waves.
  3. Stage 3 (3-8%) – The “deep sleep” stage. In stage 3, extremely slow brain waves (delta waves) are difficult to interrupt.
  4. Stage 4 (10-15%) – More intense “deep sleep” stage. The brain exclusively produces delta waves and cannot easily be interrupted.
  5. REM – “restful sleep” stage. In REM sleep, or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, brain activity increases while the eyes remain closed but move rapidly from side-to-side and suppress muscle activity.

Stages of Healthy Sleep

Natural Ways to Sleep Better

Make your bedroom sleeping environment as optimized as you can, such as a mattress, lighting, etc. One of the most natural ways to relax is scents. Here are the best scents that can help relaxation and promote sleep:

  • Lavender
  • Lemon or Yuzu
  • Chamomile
  • Bergamot
  • Geranium
  • Ylang Ylang
  • Vanilla
  • Clary sage
  • Jasmine

Melatonin is naturally present in plants, animals, and humans. It works as a hormonal signal released during the night to establish circadian rhythms.

According to a study by the Journal of Pineal Research, sleeping in an insufficiently dark room with televisions, computers, or iPads can prevent the metabolism from working at its best during sleep. The light emitted from these device screens or even street lights passing through blinds works by disturbing melatonin production in the body, leading to reduced efficiency regarding how the body processes food.

Bariatric Surgery Can Help

Weight loss surgery can significantly improve sleep-related comorbidities, also known as sleep disorders – snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, and breathing problems. Consult with your primary care physician to see if bariatric procedures like a popular gastric sleeve (VSG) are ideal for improving your shuteye.

[1] Cappuccio, F. P., Taggart, F. M., Kandala, N.-B., Currie, A., Peile, E., Stranges, S., & Miller, M. A. (2008). Meta-Analysis of Short Sleep Duration and Obesity in Children and Adults. Sleep, 31(5), 619–626.
[2] Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Born, J. (2012). Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Archiv, 463(1), 121–137.
[3]  Daniel J. Gottlieb, Naresh M. Punjabi, Ann B. Newman, Helaine E. Resnick, Susan Redline, Carol M. Baldwin, F. Javier Nieto. Association of Sleep Time With Diabetes Mellitus and Impaired Glucose Tolerance. Arch Intern Med. 2005;165(8):863–867. doi:10.1001/archinte.165.8.863
[4] Gangwisch, J. E., Malaspina, D., Babiss, L. A., Opler, M. G., Posner, K., Shen, S., … Ginsberg, H. N. (2010). Short Sleep Duration as a Risk Factor for Hypercholesterolemia: Analyses of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Sleep, 33(7), 956–961.