8 Scary Things That Happen When You Don't Sleep Enough

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Whether you tossed and turned for hours or just stayed up watching Netflix, a sleepless night can spell trouble the next day. But that doesn’t just mean dozing off at your desk or a workout that feels like an endless slog. Sleep deprivation can have some seriously scary effects on your brain. It can mess with your ability to think clearly and react to situations the way that you normally would. And it can lead to physiological problems too. Here’s a look at eight serious issues you can run into (as if you needed more reasons to crawl under the covers).

1

You’re More Likely to Get Into a Car Accident

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Drivers who log five to six hours of sleep per night are nearly twice as likely to get into a crash compared to those who sleep for seven hours or more, according to a 2016 report from the Foundation for Traffic Safety. And the longer you go without getting enough shut-eye, the more your risk increases. Physiologically, a sleep-deprived person shows a level of impairment comparable to someone who is drunk.

Israeli research from 2017 shows that being overtired blurs vision and delays communication between neurons in the brain. “It’s all about reaction time, which slows considerably when a person is sleep-deprived,” says Michael Breus, Ph.D., a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “This could be critical when talking about driving and split-second decision-making.”

Read more: The Scary Way Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Brain

2

Your Blood Pressure Spikes

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Getting six hours of sleep or less significantly ups your risk for high blood pressure, writes Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D., for the Mayo Clinic. Why? Your body has a harder time regulating the production of stress hormones like cortisol when you’re sleep-deprived. And over time that extra stress can translate to physical health problems like hypertension.

And hypertension, of course, is bad news. Blood pressure that consistently measures above 120/80 mmHg can damage your blood vessels. And that can lead to heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. And it can also mess with your sex life by causing erectile dysfunction in men and lower libido in women.

Listen now: Why America’s Obsession with ‘Happiness’ Is Totally Stressing Us Out

3

Your Risk for a Heart Attack Goes Up

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High blood pressure is just one way sleep deprivation can hurt your heart. Consistently falling short on sleep can put you at risk for weight gain, cholesterol problems and high blood sugar, according to the National Sleep Foundation. And all of those things can increase your risk for a heart attack.

Even scarier? Even a day or two of short sleep could have a negative impact on your heart function. Young, healthy shift workers saw their blood pressures, heart rates and stress hormones increase after only one night of sleeping for just three hours, a small 2016 German study found.

Read more: 9 Health Warning Signs You Should Never Ignore

4

You’re  More Likely to Get Sick

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Next to washing your hands, getting enough sleep is one of the best ways to reduce your chances for catching a cold or the flu. People who log less than five hours of sleep per night are four times more likely to get sick when exposed to a virus as compared with those who sleep for seven hours or more, according to research published in a 2015 issue of Sleep. And the effects can happen in as little as five days.

When someone doesn’t get enough sleep, their immune system responds by launching an inflammatory response, says Joyce Lee-Ianotti, M.D., director of the Sleep Center at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix. And that inflammation can make it harder for the body to fight off an invasion from an illness-causing virus or bacteria.

5

Your Junk-Food Cravings Skyrocket

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When it comes to food, research suggests that exhaustion basically has the same effect on your brain as smoking marijuana. One 2016 study from the journal Sleep found that after just one night of short sleep, people have higher levels of the chemical endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol in their brains. That is a compound that ups your appetite and makes food taste more delicious. And it’s the same one that causes the munchies after smoking pot.

The combo of feeling sleepy and snacky can also lower your inhibitions and drive you to consume more calories (up to 550 more in a single day, according to the National Sleep Foundation). Skimp on sleep for a week and it could add up to more than a pound gained.

6

Your Relationship Can Take a Hit

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Feeling tired puts you in a bad mood. And when you’re crabby, you’re more likely to act like a jerk to people, including your partner. One 2013 University of California, Berkeley study found that sleep-deprived couples tend to show less gratitude for each other.

“All emotions are exaggerated, and we have a tendency to view things more negatively when we’re sleep-deprived,” says sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus. Issues that might not seem like a big deal when you’re well rested can make you irritable when you’re tired. (He forgot to screw the toothpaste cap on again!) So you’re less likely to be nice — and more prone to argue.

Read more: 10 Not-So-Obvious Things That Are Killing Your Sex Drive

7

You Become More Forgetful

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When you’re asleep, new memories are transmitted from your hippocampus to your prefrontal cortex for long-term storage, says sleep expert Dr. Joyce Lee-Ianotti. Fail to get enough shut-eye and that transmission doesn’t happen. As a result, those new memories don’t get stored.

So there’s a good chance you’ll have a harder time recalling what went on during yesterday’s meeting. Even weirder? If you’re exhausted enough, you could end up remembering stuff that didn’t even happen. In one 2014 University of California, Irvine study, subjects who went for 24 hours without sleep actually developed false memories.

8

Your Moods Go Haywire

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Even a night or two of little to no sleep can escalate feelings of stress, anger and sadness, say Harvard health experts. As a result, you’re more likely to lose it over something small — like your friend being a few minutes late for your bike ride or all the avocados at the market being underripe.

There’s a reason why feeling tired makes you so prickly. Exhaustion ramps up activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain involved in processing new information and regulating emotions, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. That can leave you feeling more anxious and make it harder to keep you calm in stressful situations.

Read more: 11 Habits That Are Ruining Your Sleep (and How to Fix Them)

What Do YOU Think?

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How much sleep do you get every night? Do you wake up feeling tired or rested and refreshed? Did you know that lack of sleep could have such detrimental effects to your health? Have you heard of other negative side effects of not sleeping well? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

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Overview

Whether you tossed and turned for hours or just stayed up watching Netflix, a sleepless night can spell trouble the next day. But that doesn’t just mean dozing off at your desk or a workout that feels like an endless slog. Sleep deprivation can have some seriously scary effects on your brain. It can mess with your ability to think clearly and react to situations the way that you normally would. And it can lead to physiological problems too. Here’s a look at eight serious issues you can run into (as if you needed more reasons to crawl under the covers).

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