How Losing Sleep Affects Your Body and Mind

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

If you’ve been skimping on sleep to get more done during your waking hours, you may be fooling yourself if you think you’re getting away with it. The truth is, insufficient shuteye can compromise the way that you feel and function around the clock, often in sneaky ways. After all, good-quality sleep provides your mind and body with the opportunity for renewal and rejuvenation, which can help enhance your everyday performance. Here’s a head-to-toe look at the reality of what happens when you cheat on sleep.

Your mind won’t function optimally. Sleep is critical for the formation and consolidation of memories—and for your ability to retrieve them while you’re awake. Plus, when you’re tired, it’s more difficult to learn something new or to pay attention to whatever it is you should be attending to. These deficits can compromise your creativity, your ability to make decisions or solve problems, and your work performance.

Your mood can take a nosedive. Getting enough shuteye helps with mood and emotion regulation, so you might feel cranky, irritable, or emotionally out of sorts if you don’t snooze enough. What’s more, you could become more reactive to stress than usual.

Your reaction time may suffer. Believe it or not, going just 19 hours without sleep can compromise your speed and accuracy on tests of judgment and motor reaction time as much as if you were legally drunk. Naturally, this can increase your risk of having a car accident, as well as performing badly at other tasks involving quick thinking and coordination.

You can end up looking bad. Literally! Consistently skimping on sleep can lead to premature wrinkling and sagging of your skin, partly because cortisol (a stress hormone that’s released when you’re sleep-deprived) can break down collagen, which keeps your skin smooth. You can also feel colder than usual because sleep is essential for body temperature regulation.

Your heart can suffer. Sleeping fewer than six hours a night can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure or worsen high blood pressure if you already have it. Plus, over time, skimping on sleep can increase your odds of developing cardiovascular disease.

Your appetite can go into overdrive. When you don’t get enough sleep, you may feel hungrier than usual and crave high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, in particular. Your body’s fullness (satiety) signals also get thrown out of whack. These effects can lead to unwanted weight gain.

Your immune system will take a hit. When you’re tired and even moderately sleep-deprived, your immune function is compromised. This can leave you vulnerable to catching colds, the flu, and other infectious illnesses—and make it harder to recover from infections and heal from wounds.