Can Lack of Sleep Make Your Legs Feel Weak?

In our culture, sleep deprivation in the name of accomplishment has become a badge of honor, letting the world know that you are going the extra mile to succeed and provide for your family. But the health repercussions of inadequate sleep may eventually net you diminishing returns. While an occasional shortage of sleep won't hurt you, chronic sleep deprivation can impede your mental and physical performance, and can lead to obesity, metabolic syndrome and neuromuscular weakness.

Sleep deprivation can lead to neurological disorders, including muscle weakness. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Sleep Deprivation and Health

The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research lists numerous repercussions of inadequate sleep. Cognitive brain function, memory and the ability to learn are impaired. The endocrine system, which produces hormones for thyroid function, glucose metabolism and other important processes during sleep, is unable to do its job. The digestive system and the kidneys are negatively impacted by lack of sleep. A 2007 study published in "Experimental Psychology" established a correlation between sleep deprivation and metabolic syndrome, a precursor to heart disease marked by increased abdominal fat and diabetes-like insulin resistance in the cells.

Physical Performance and Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation notes that adequate sleep is crucial to peak athletic performance, citing tissue repair and the release of growth hormone as two vital processes that occur during sleep. Increased cortisol levels and decreased glycogen storage have been observed in athletes deprived of sleep. Your body uses glycogen, the storage form of glucose, for muscular contraction. Depletion of glycogen coupled with insulin resistance in the cells may manifest as a feeling of weakness in the large muscles of the legs.

Neuromuscular Function and Sleep

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a common cause of neurological muscle weakness, defined as "decreased muscle strength compared to perceived effort." The central nervous system, or CNS, includes your brain and the nerves that run along your spinal cord. Your brain sends messages via the CNS to the peripheral nervous system and the neuromuscular junction where nerves meet and transmit information to muscles. Sleep deprivation interferes with brain function and slows the delivery of information to the muscles during physical activity.

Making Sleep a Priority

While some people truly have a schedule that limits available sleep time, most of us choose other activities over sleep. Socializing, watching television and cruising the Internet often displace sleep as priorities in our lives. Excessive caffeine consumption during the day and alcohol consumption in the evening are known to interfere with sleep quality. Sleeping with the television on has been shown to keep you from entering into deep stages of sleep. Daily physical activity, an established bedtime routine and a cool, quiet, darkened room promote good quality sleep.

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