Everyone can recognize the telltale signs that they didn’t get an adequate amount of sleep the night before: exhaustion, grumpiness, and a need for that second pot of coffee before 9 a.m. However, many don’t realize that over time, a buildup of those sleepless nights can form a sleep debt and have more serious ramifications.
After several nights of inadequate rest, studies show that humans’ memory, health, rational thinking, and even ability to lose weight can be compromised. Alarming, right? Especially considering that according to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health, highlighted by HealthCommunities.com, about 30 to 40 percent of adults say they have suffered symptoms of insomnia within a given year, and about 10 to 15 percent of adults say they have chronic insomnia.
And the effects of excessive sleepiness don’t only disturb those who try to sleep and can’t — it also affects those who could sleep, but just don’t. Many people have a hard time shutting that computer at night and going to bed at a reasonable hour, and others can’t resist plugging away at work for just a little longer. You might think you’ll be fine in the morning as long as you have a couple of mugs of coffee, but you could be harming yourself and your productivity more than you realize.
Here are seven signs you’re more sleep-deprived than you think. Hopefully, they’re eye-opening enough to convince you to get some shuteye.
1. Loss of critical thinking/decision-making skills
This first sign of sleep deprivation is a big one for adults because it directly affects their productivity levels at work, day in and day out. You may think it’s a good idea to get those last hours of work in the night before, but if it means compromising your sleep, you’re better off getting some shuteye.
WebMD explains that sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning — therefore, a lack of it hinders these cognitive processes in more ways than many realize. Sleep deprivation not only harms your attention, alertness, concentration, and reasoning potential, it also takes away from your problem-solving and decision-making skills. This results in a drop in productivity and your ability to learn efficiently.
Discovery’s Health and Fit agrees. It points out that the brain’s prefrontal cortex is involved in judgment and impulse control, so when your brain feels the strain of sleep deprivation, your decision-making abilities suffer, as well.
2. Poor memory
Next up, let’s talk about memory, because there is a reason students in school are instructed to get an adequate amount of sleep the night before a big test. Why don’t adults follow the same logic?
Though REM sleep is still far from being fully understood, many studies show that it is that cycle that helps our brains process information gained throughout the day. Sleep cycles play a role in “consolidating” memories in the mind, so even if you stay up the night before preparing for a big meeting or test, if you sacrifice your sleep, your brain won’t have the opportunity to refresh and reorganize itself, affecting your performance the next day.
So if you’re constantly having trouble remembering things and staying on track, there’s a good likelihood you’re not putting yourself to bed early enough at night.
People’s moods also tend to suffer when they routinely don’t clock in enough sleep, and no one understands that more than family, friends, or coworkers. However, it also goes beyond that. Sleep debt can contribute to symptoms of depression and helplessness, and the most common sleep disorder, insomnia, has the strongest link.
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, studies have linked even partial sleep deprivation to having a significant effect on mood. University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted, but when they fixed the problem and resumed normal sleep, they saw a dramatic improvement in their mood.
Insomnia and depression feed on each other, WebMD says. Sleep loss can aggravate the symptoms of depression, while depression can turn it around and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Harvard’s Division of Sleep Medicine reports that difficulty sleeping is sometimes the first symptom of depression. Studies have found that 15 to 20 percent of people diagnosed with insomnia will develop major depression.
4. Lack of sex drive
If you suffer from a poor sex drive or can’t find the energy (or desire) to romance your loved one, that might be another thing you can blame on sleep deprivation — rather than your partner. According to WebMD, sleep-deprived men and women tend to report lower libidos and less interest in sex, largely due to depleted energy, sleepiness, and increased tension (see No. 3). In addition, men who suffer from sleep apnea, a respiratory condition that hinders sleep, have also been found to have low levels of testosterone.
Moms and dads, girls and boys: get to sleep.
5. Increased appetite
No. 5 on our list is also a big sign of sleep deprivation, especially for women, although they often blame their increased appetite on other factors. We’ve heard time and time again that a lack of sleep can hurt hinder one’s chances of weight loss and lead to increased appetite, but few understand the science behind the understanding.
There’s an easy explanation and a more complex one. The first involves the amount of time one is awake at night, and therefore up for eating. Many people who suffer insomnia drown their tears in a late-night cereal bowl or midnight snack, and before long, enough sleepless nights turn that habit into a routine fourth meal. Enter weight gain.
To look at things more physiologically, The Huffington Post reports findings from a University of Chicago study that those who get less sleep at night have shown to report higher blood levels of a molecule called 2-arachidonoylglycerol, which regulates the feelings of “reward” and enjoyment from eating. In research that studied the difference in the molecule levels of those who slept four-and-a-half hours during the night and those who slept eight-and-a half hours, those who got less sleep had higher blood levels of 2-arachidonoylglycerol.
Study researcher Eric Hanlon told the Post: “Past experimental studies show that sleep restriction increases hunger and appetite. The mechanism for overeating after inadequate sleep may be an elevation in this endocannabinoid molecule, called 2-arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG.”
WebMD also has more evidence that a lack of sleep can fuel one’s appetite. It highlighted research that has uncovered a link between sleep and the peptides that regulate appetite. According to a 2004 study, people who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30 percent more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours, because “ghrelin stimulates hunger and leptin signals satiety to the brain and suppresses appetite,” and “shortened sleep time is associated with decreases in leptin and elevations in ghrelin.”
6. Inability to handle stress
Next up: stress. You may blame it on your workload, but could your lack of sleep possibly be fudging your vision? Sure, you may encounter daily challenges and frustrations, but studies have shown that when a person is sleep-deprived, he or she is much less likely to be able to manage those stressors and remain level-headed. Discovery Fit & Health reports that a lack of sleep seems to lower the threshold for “stress perception,” and thus, the most trivial things can set you off more easily.
In addition, stress is also a double-edged sword, because not only can a lack of sleep contribute to stress, but stress can contribute to a lack of sleep. Discovery Fit & Health highlights research that shows stress hormones can be stimulating, especially in middle-age men, resulting in an over-activation of the stress response system in later hours of the evening.
7. Vision problems
Last but not least, vision problems. If you often have trouble de-fogging your eyes, have difficulty focusing, and generally feel like you’re walking around in a haze, we challenge you to get some more sleep. Not only is a lack of acute vision dangerous, it also can lead to other problems down the line — namely falls, crashes, or accidents on the job.
So how could sleep deprivation possibly affect the way your eyes focus? Discovery Fit & Health explains. The publication reports that researchers have attributed the problem to the brain’s I-function, which integrates information from other parts of the brain. When neurons are not getting enough regenerative sleep, they cannot sufficiently perform functions such as providing the body with an accurate perception of the world around it. As they become less efficient, they cut corners and provide images that contain most of the information someone needs, but not all of it. Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, right? Sleep!