Seven surprising consequences of a lack of sleep

From making you anxious to causing fights with your spouse. Find out how not sleeping enough hurts you in more ways than one.
Find out what a bad's night sleep is really doing to your system Find out what a bad's night sleep is really doing to your system (Photo by Getty Images).

While sleep deprivation is likely the last thing on your wish list, you may be surprised to find that it can be the culprit behind some very mysterious symptoms – from increased cravings to skin aging. Here are seven reason to get your sleep back on track that might surprise you.

1. It can make you look older One of the first things I notice in my patients after we've restored their sleep patterns is that they look remarkably younger -- and now science backs this observation.

A recent clinical trial demonstrated that poor sleepers had increased signs of skin aging and slower recovery from a variety of environmental stressors, such as disruption of the skin barrier or ultraviolet (UV) radiation. They also had a worse assessment of their own skin and facial appearance.

This quick-trip to aging is likely from the reduced growth hormone and increased cortisol levels that go hand-in-hand with a sleepless night. It turns out that sleep is the foundation of youth, after all.

2. You'll want more high-calorie snacks It’s no surprise that those sleepless nights will send your appetite to a bad place and a UC Berkeley study confirms it’s for calorie-dense junk food like burgers, potato chips and sweets.

Using an MRI machine, researchers scanned the brains of 23 healthy young adults, first after a normal night's sleep and next, after a sleepless night. They found impaired activity in the sleep-deprived brain's frontal lobe, which governs complex decision-making, but increased activity in deeper brain centres that respond to rewards. In other words, the participants favoured junk food the day after a restless night.


Case in point, you can’t get to your weight loss goals without looking at your sleeping habits.

3. You and your spouse will fight more Scientists have learned that a lack of sleep can cause relationship issues. Not to mention that relationship issues can cause a lack of sleep, so be careful not to fall into this cycle.

Psychologists from UC Berkeley discovered that couples were more likely to argue and engage in unnecessary conflict after a bad night’s sleep. So not only should you not go to bed angry, you may find your relationship improves when you get your seven to eight hours of sleep a night.   

4. You'll feel more aches and pains A lack of sleep can impair your natural pain control mechanisms and exacerbate those nagging aches and pains.

Researchers from Norway have uncovered an association between sleep problems and increased risk of fibromyalgia in women. The opposite is also true – extending your sleep can reduce your pain sensitivity. In fact, for those who suffer from migraines, a good night’s sleep may be your first defence. 


5. It can affect your dating life Chances are you've heard the term 'beer goggles', but 'insomnia goggles' may have a similar effect.

One study showed that among college men it can affect their judgement in romantic situations – more specifically the frontal lobe’s reign over inhibition and moral reasoning. If you want to get an accurate vibe on whether or not your date is really interested in you be sure you get between seven and eight hours of sleep the night before.

6. Your anxiety will get worse Whether or not you're prone to anxiety, a few nights without proper sleep can transform you into an excessive worrier. Neuroscientists, again from UC Berkeley, found that sleep deprivation amplifies anticipatory anxiety by affecting regions associated with emotional processing. If your mood is low and your anxiety is high, consider the most natural antidepressant around – sleep therapy.

7. Your insulin-sensitivity will be reduced Your instinct to hit the snooze button may be right. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh discovered that teens who normally get six hours of sleep per night can improve their insulin resistance by nine percent by adding one extra hour of sleep.

It seems like a simple solution to the belly fat problem, although it does take practice. A ritual for getting sleep should begin a few hours before bed, versus in the 15 minutes before. Try turning off all bright devices (yes, this includes cell phones and laptops) and install a dimmer that you flick on in the evenings to allow yourself to wind down.


During the weeks when our schedules get the best of us, use the weekends to catch up on those lost hours -- and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here


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