Some of you might remember the public service announcement from the late 1980s “This is Your Brain on Drugs.” It was an anti-drug campaign launched in 1987 by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and its impact was huge. It showed a man holding an egg and saying “this is your brain.” He then motions to a hot frying pan saying “this is drugs.” He then cracks open the egg on the pan and says “This is your brain on drugs.” He then looks up and asks “Any questions?” The implication was powerful and needed no explanation.
By using that same approach to describe sleep deprivation, minus the egg of course, you’d see a brain and body that was quite literally, falling apart. As a psychotherapist and lifestyle expert, I pay close attention to the sleep habits of my patients. You see, if there’s a lack of sleep, your brain and body will pretty much be like that egg in the hot frying pan: incapacitated — and no one wants that to happen.
Here’s what sleep deprivation will do to you:
1. You’ll feel depressed and anxious.
Overwhelmingly insomnia is one of the most common symptoms I see in my depressed and anxious patients and is one of the most closely linked sleep disorders to mood issues. It’s a bit of a double edged sword because poor sleep will make someone more prone to depression and depression/worry will interfere with one’s ability to sleep. The good news is that by treating depression, peoples’ sleep will improve and by treating insomnia peoples’ depression will get better.
2. You’ll gain weight.
The hormone ghrelin is related to sleep and weight. It tells your brain when you need to eat, when it should stop burning calories and when it should store energy as fat. When you sleep you require less energy than when you’re awake, so your levels of ghrelin decrease. People who don’t sleep enough end up with too much ghrelin so the body thinks it’s hungry and it needs more calories, and it stops burning those calories because it thinks there’s a shortage. This leads to packing on pounds.
3. You’ll develop wrinkles.
Chronic sleep deprivation not only will lead to puffy eyes, but also fine lines and dark circles. Here’s why: when you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, it breaks down the protein in the skin known as collagen. This protein is what’s responsible for maintaining skin’s smoothness and elasticity.
4. You’ll be forgetful.
During sleep it is believed that information that is learned during the day is processed and transferred in the brain from the hippocampus to the neocortex. Without adequate sleep this process doesn’t occur and information is not stored.
5. Your judgment will be impaired.
For anyone who has ever driven a car while sleepy you’ll know what I’m referring to. Reflexes and reaction times are slow and it’s hard to concentrate and stay alert and awake. This leads to an inability to perform tasks, especially those that require complex thinking and coordination. The National Highway and Safety Administration estimates that fatigue contributes to 100,000 car crashes and 1550 crash-related deaths per year. Similarly, sleep deprived people are more prone to accidents at work.
6. You’ll become wimpy.
When you don’t get enough sleep your body doesn’t release enough human growth hormone (HGH). For a young person this hormone promotes growth and as we age it helps to strengthen bones, increase muscle mass, and thicken skin. So sleep will literally make you thin-skinned and wimpy.
So in order to prevent such a decline in your mental and physical health, take a look at how you can improve your overall sleep. There are a variety of things that you have full control over that will ensure a better night’s sleep. If you’re anxious about being a poor sleeper, then try to change the way you think about it. In most cases it’s a fixable issue related to lifestyle. Perhaps it is about physical discomfort or stress. Whatever the case, make it a priority to assess and improve your sleep.
Originally published at www.inc.com on March 10, 2016.