by Mark Bello

We all know we should get a good night’s sleep—seven to nine hours—yet most of us don’t. Why? Between work obligations  and family life, most people put getting enough sleep low on their list of priorities. However, skimping on sleep can have profound consequences on your health and mental well-being.  In the short-term, lack of sleep can affect your mood, judgment, and the ability to recall information. Long-term effects can drain your mental abilities, put your physical health at risk, and weaken your immune system.

Let’s take a closer look at the reality of what happens to your body and mind when you cheat on sleep:

Immune System

Sleep deprivation suppresses immune system  function.  This can leave you vulnerable to sickness from the common cold, the flu, or other infectious illnesses. If it continues, lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to serious medical conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer.

Cardiovascular System

Sleep is essential for a healthy heart. Studies have shown that people who get six hours of sleep or less can are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease—regardless of age, weight, smoking and exercise habits. Sleep deprivation can also increase your risk of having a fatal heart attack in your lifetime.

Cognitive Impairment

Sleep plays a vital role in thinking, learning, problem solving, and decision making. Without adequate sleep, your brain feels foggy, and it is harder to focus, pay attention, and make decisions. The inability to focus and concentrate will further weaken memory.

Lack of sleep also slows your thought processes and reaction time. This is especially a problem when driving a car or performing tasks that require a quick response. Over time, sleep deprivation can lead to anxiety, insomnia, and depression, especially as the body struggles to cope with the stress of sleepiness.

Your mood can be altered significantly if you don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause you to feel cranky, irritable,   or emotionally out of sorts; it may also lessen your ability to cope with stress. Even one night of insufficient sleep can have a dramatic impact on your mood.

A number of studies have also linked lack of sleep to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. One reason is that during sleep     is when your brain’s waste removal system is at work. However, when you are sleep-deprived, the toxic protein associated with the disease cannot be flushed out.

Reproductive System

Intimacy usually falls by the wayside when you’re exhausted. Numerous studies have shown that sleep deprivation lowers libidos and men with sleep apnea have low testosterone levels. Another study found that each extra hour of  sleep  a  woman got corresponded to a 14 percent increase in the likelihood of sexual activity the following day.

Skin Changes

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more    of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic.

You can usually tell when someone hasn’t slept well by how they look. Many people experience sallow skin and puffy eyes after a few nights of missed sleep. However, chronic sleep loss can lead to lackluster skin, fine lines, dark circles under the  eyes, more wrinkles, and more droopy corners of the mouth. You can also feel colder than usual because sleep is essential for body temperature regulation.

Weight Gain

Studies show that poor sleep leads to an increase in hunger and weight gain. It also stimulates cravings for high-fat, high- carbohydrate foods. Because sleep has an effect on glucose metabolism, the lack of sleep will increase your risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Sleep deprivation can usually be treated with good sleep practices such as:

» Sticking to a bedtime routine

» Getting regular exercise

» Making healthy eating choices

» Avoiding alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime

» Turning off the TV, computer, and smartphone and hour before bedtime

You owe it to yourself to develop better sleep habits. Your body and mind will thank you for it!