6 Ways Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Whole Body

Rumbly tummy? Thinning hair? You may be showing symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.
Publish date:
March 9, 2015
depression, sleep, teeth, thinning hair, postpartum, insomnia, stomach ache

Ever go one night without enough sleep? What about a week? How about months?

Between being an insomniac and a new mom, I rarely get more than a few hours of shut-eye a night. For anyone who has ever dealt with chronic sleep deprivation, you know how it feels to push back the covers, resigned to yet another day of feeling utterly exhausted. But it’s only recently I’ve started to observe more direct connections between the amount of sleep I’m (not) getting and how my body looks and feels.

Not getting enough rest, whatever the reason, has real repercussions on our skin and body.

Increased Risk For Depression And Anxiety

People who are consistently sleep deprived experience greater difficulty regulating their mood, increasing the risk for depression and anxiety. It’s not always clear what triggers what--in some cases insomnia is a symptom of depression, while in others, it is one of the contributing factors. What the research is clear about, however, is that chronic sleep deprivation significantly aggravates your ability to get and stay happy.

Interestingly, even if you aren’t experiencing depression, researchers have found that the signs of being sleep deprived (such as a drawn face, colorless or dull skin, and under-eye bags) make you appear depressed to others.

Where Did I Put My…?

Part of the process of making a memory last a lifetime happens when we are sleeping. If you aren’t getting in enough hours, your memory starts to suffer. But I don’t have to tell you that. You already know that when you have more hours awake than sleeping, you misplace your keys, forget to meet your friend for dinner, and wander around the grocery store aimlessly, unsure of what it was you thought you desperately needed.

Yikes! What’s Happening To My Skin?

In addition to feeling not-so-cute because of the under-eye bags, chronic sleep deprivation also manifests itself on your skin as acne, lines, and dullness. Not getting enough sleep interrupts your body’s regenerating abilities, resulting in less collagen production and compromising your skin’s elasticity. In other words, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, you might start looking your age (and then some) at an accelerated rate.

Additionally, when your body’s ability to regenerate is interrupted, you can either develop or see a worsening of conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and any skin-related allergies.

There Goes Your Hair

I’m already dealing with hair loss, thanks to the hormonal recalibration that goes on during the postpartum period. But having your hair fall out in chunks or thin suddenly also indicates bodily stress--and ongoing sleep deprivation is immensely taxing on your system.

Your Stomach Might Start Revolting

The number-one sign for me of a really poor night’s sleep is a huge, relentless stomach ache in the morning. Sleeping resets the gut, and without this break, your digestive system can end up seriously angry. Personally, I’ve dealt with IBS since I was a teen, and note a lot more problems in the days and weeks following a pronounced lack of sleep. Those of you with Crohn’s, celiac, diverticulitis, or gastroparesis likely also see your symptoms aggravated when you aren’t well-rested.

Your Dental Bill Might Go Up

It turns out that part of nodding off gently for most of us involves some gnashing and clenching of our teeth. It’s only when we enter a REM cycle that our jaw relaxes and we cool it with the teeth grinding. But if you’re not staying asleep long enough to progress to REM, you are experiencing higher amounts of dental stress. Lack of sleep can be a contributing factor to your pearly whites degrading or your TMJ flaring up.

So, What Can You Do About It?

Whether you’re an insomniac or life circumstances don’t permit you much time for rest, even the best sleep hygiene won’t always work. I’ve learned the best thing I can do is not stress over it. I will sleep eventually. You will, too. In the meantime, rest when you can, be cognizant of your limitations when you can’t, and experiment with self-care practices to help you cope, including seeing a professional for specific physical, mental, or emotional concerns.

  • Are you chronically sleep-deprived?
  • What’s your secret for a good night’s sleep?

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