Do you get between six and eight hours of sleep every night? If you don’t, you aren’t the only one. So many people suffer sleep disturbances that the CDC considers it a public health problem. Whether it’s because of a sleep-related disorder or you’re consistently trapped in an endless Netflix binge until 3 a.m., not getting enough sleep hurts — and its effects are devastating.
Sleep deprivation has plenty of long-term side effects, like weight gain and shortening your life expectancy. Unfortunately, a night spent tossing and turning — or streaming “just one more” episode — can have an immediate impact on your health the morning after.
Let’s walk through what your day might look like tomorrow if you don’t get some sleep. (Spoiler alert: you will not have a good day.)
1. Waking up: Running on fumes
If your alarm went off at its usual time, you definitely didn’t hear it. So your day begins — late. There’s already coffee waiting downstairs, but getting dressed takes five times longer than usual for some reason. Somewhere between filling your travel mug with liquid caffeine and finally locating your car keys, your spouse says something to you about stopping at the store on your way home. You grumble a reply and don’t make eye contact, because mornings are terrible and you should have gone to bed earlier and you have many regrets.
A lot’s going on in your head right now. It takes forever to get out the door, because you haven’t given your brain the rest it needs to recharge overnight. You’re also cranky, because according to the Sleep Health Foundation, poor sleep changes the way your brain processes emotions. On top of all that, you’re exposing your brain to large amounts of caffeine — which will stimulate it for awhile, but won’t successfully get you through the morning. Good luck out there. It’s going to be a long day.
2. Morning commute: Front tire, meet squirrel
Making it to work on time requires driving faster than usual — which turns out to be a big mistake. The CDC reports that drowsy driving may have been responsible for an estimated 72,000 automobile crashes in 2013, many of them fatal. When you’re tired, you miss things. Your brain defaults to autopilot — you see only what you expect to see, and nothing out of the ordinary. Operating a moving vehicle in this state puts others in danger — even the squirrel that unknowingly runs out onto the road in front of your car.
You may have been able to avoid it, too, if you’d gotten a few more hours of sleep. But according to Healthline, sleep deprivation also decreases your coordination, and therefore affects your reaction time. You may have seen that squirrel cowering in the road and you may have tried to swerve as its little life flashed before its innocent eyes, but your brain couldn’t react to the unexpected fluffy stimuli fast enough. RIP, little guy.
3. Mid-morning: Junk food feast
You somehow made it to work on time, but your usual fruit-and-yogurt breakfast isn’t cutting it today. You need carbs, and you need them now. If this is out of the ordinary for you, consider your brain on no sleep. The reason everything in the vending machine across from your desk looks so good is because your bad night’s sleep has really messed with your head. Research says you’re craving high-fat, high-carb foods because your brain isn’t as capable of saying no to its deepest, saltiest desires.
Sugar is also your body’s way of dealing with stress, says The Huffington Post. Since sleepiness stresses your body out, it’s no wonder you’re “that person” in your team meeting trying not to distract everyone while opening your second bag of M&Ms. That, on top of thinking about this morning’s spontaneous squirrel funeral, makes for a highly unproductive morning indeed.
4. After lunch: Panic in the face of crisis
Usually, you’re pretty good at handling a Wednesday afternoon crisis. Remaining calm under pressure is what you’re best known for — in your department, at least. Today is different, though. You can’t remember the last time you’ve felt this anxious — or ended up hiding in the bathroom so you didn’t have to deal with the big bad scary adult things lurking on the other side of the door.
If you weren’t sleep-deprived, you probably wouldn’t be struggling so hard. Some research has suggested people who suffer sleep loss tend to experience more anxiety than those who have had a full night’s rest. Plus, on little to no sleep, you’re more likely to feel stressed, according to the American Psychological Association. Your fully rested self wouldn’t have hidden in a bathroom stall. This is all your fault.
5. End-of-day brainstorming session: The intern comes up with better ideas than you
Your final obligation of the work day, your department’s weekly brainstorming session, does not go as planned. Since the mid-afternoon crisis is all taken care of (no thanks to you), everyone except you feels pumped and ready to let the ideas flow. Everyone’s surprised when it’s Greg the intern, not you, who comes up with this week’s winning product idea. By the end of the session, you realize you barely heard a word anyone said the whole meeting. Is your brain even on?
You’re not thinking straight, and your bad night’s sleep has everything to do with it. According to Healthline, poor sleep is just one of many reasons people experience brain fog. A cloudy head can make it difficult to concentrate, retain new information, formulate ideas, and make important decisions. Running on so little sleep, it’s no wonder Greg just totally obliterated your chances of ever getting a promotion. Thanks a lot, Greg.
6. Arriving home: Oops, you were supposed to buy milk
It’s breakfast-for-dinner night at home, and your spouse has been looking forward to their giant bowl of Frosted Cheerios all day. Immediately upon seeing you walk through the door empty-handed, they launch into a lecture about pulling your weight in this relationship — again. That’s right — they did ask you to stop for milk on your way home from work. Except you didn’t, because you’re still traumatized after everything terrible that’s happened today — and also, there’s that whole sleep-deprivation thing.
Could not sleeping enough really make you forget something so vital to the long-term survival of your marriage? Absolutely. According to Harvard Health Publications, not getting enough sleep negatively affects your ability to remember things. So while you’re not usually a very forgetful person, the absence of milk in the refrigerator may be the fault of your oxygen-deprived brain cells. Explaining that fact over bowls of dry cereal probably won’t salvage your relationship, though.
7. Going to bed early: It’s over, you lose, goodnight
You’re feeling more worn out at the end of the day than usual — could it have something to do with your late night yesterday? Science Daily says you’re much more likely to get sick if you aren’t sleeping enough. Sleep deprivation interferes with your body’s natural immune response, lowering its defenses against illness and disease. If you’re feeling sick by dinnertime, it’s kind of like your body’s way of sounding the alarm. Get some rest, or things are only going to get worse from here. Your spouse still isn’t speaking to you anyway, so you might as well call it a night.
So put away your smartphone, your book, and your worries. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, get out of bed and stay out of your sleeping space until you feel tired. Most importantly, don’t check your phone or turn on any lights if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night. Disrupting your sleep-wake cycle won’t do you any good. Hopefully, knowing what you know now, you’ll think twice before staying up past your bedtime ever again.