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6 Shocking Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Ah, sleep. Everyone needs it, but who has the time when there's work to catch up on, friends to socialize with, sweat sessions to rock and a full DVR to plow through? Turns out, though, that the benefits of nixing sleep deprivation far outweigh all of those excuses. We tapped top health experts to get the scoop on how depriving yourself of sleep can affect everything from your weight to your performance at work—and why you need to start making sleep a top priority before your head hits the pillow tonight.
You Lose Focus
If you can't remember the assignment your boss gave you 20 minutes ago, or that usually tolerable coworker is really grating on your nerves, it's time to take a look at the amount of sleep you are—or aren't—getting each night. "Our focus, memory, and creativity are the first to suffer when we skimp on zzz's," says Cristina Peerenboom, co-founder of POUNDfit.com. "Stress levels skyrocket and we get sluggish when we log less than seven hours of sleep, making it tough to multitask, execute day-to-day responsibilities, or power through a workout." Is that all-nighter to binge-watch Orange Is the New Black (as much as we love it) worth putting your job on the line? Didn't think so.
Quick Fix: You might think you're doing your career a favor by responding to emails before bed, but it could come at the cost of your focus the next day. Get rid of the electronics before bedtime by setting a "gadget curfew." One hour before you plan on being fast asleep, turn off your phone, tablet, and whatever else could possibly buzz and distract you. Put them in a drawer or in another room—and don't check them until morning!
Your Mood Goes Out of Whack
It's no coincidence that babies who sleep through the night are a lot less cranky than those who don't. Take a cue from your infant days and look around: If you notice that you're a lot happier, easier to please, and more sociable when you've gotten enough sleep, it's because your snooze and your mood go hand in hand. "Not getting enough sleep can trigger your fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system, and it can cause you to have less serotonin [hormones that make you feel happy]," explains Dave Asprey, author of The Bulletproof Diet. "Less happy hormones mean you're going to regret the things you say to your kids or your coworkers."
Quick Fix: If a speedy snooze sesh isn't possible (we know—we wish), step into a private room for a few long, slow deep breaths. Not only will it help you refocus on what's important, it'll also help temper any rising anger toward that frustrating coworker. Drama-free zone, coming right up.
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Your Snack Habits Change
Sometimes it just seems easier to reach for a bag of chips, doesn't it? If you find yourself grabbing a calorie-filled snack instead of your usual air-popped popcorn, blame sleep deprivation. "A lack of sleep leads to low energy levels, which, in turn, leads to craving high-carb 'energy' foods," explains Dempsey Marks, a fitness trainer and founder of DempseyFit.com. Lack of sleep can affect the release of cortisol into your system and could lead to weight gain around your abdomen. Plus, "it increases fatigue, making you less likely to exercise," says Dolvett Quince, a personal trainer on The Biggest Loser and the exercise developer for The Biggest Loser Bootcamp: The 8 Week Get-Real, Get-Results Weight-Loss Program.
Quick Fix: Don't reach for junk food. "When your body is in rest mode, your metabolism is at its slowest and that's when you store the most fat," explains Quince. "Instead, drink a glass of water or grab a handful of almonds. Keep your mind and mouth busy by eating one at a time." It'll fill you up until you're able to grab a full meal and a good night's rest.
Your Skin Suffers
If people tell you that you look tired, it's because you don't look like yourself when sleep deprivation is in play. "Lack of sleep dries your skin out, which throws off your pH levels and could cause breakouts or—even worse—superficial lines that could become deeper if not treated properly," says celebrity esthetician Elizabeth Kennedy of EK Skin. Cortisol spells trouble for your skin, too. "Cortisol causes inflammation, which makes the body collect sodium and other fluids that cause swelling and puffiness [in the face]," says Lynda Barens, owner of Beauty Realized.
Quick Fix: If you notice your face is red and puffy, Barens recommends applying a water-based gel mask (we like Laneige's Water Sleeping Mask, $23), or a cold compress with chamomile tea, which creates an antiseptic that will reduce puffiness and inflammation.
Your Sex Life Stalls
Who has the stamina for a roll in the hay when you barely have enough energy to crawl into bed? Before you know it, that pesky "Not tonight, honey..." excuse is being used every night. But if you're not the one muttering the infamous phrase, check in with your guy. "Sleep has other effects on the body that directly influence sex drive," explains Eric Rottenberg, MD, a board-certified urologist in NYC. "When the pituitary-gonadal axis [where the production of sex hormones comes from] is interrupted, the end result is a decrease in testosterone. Low testosterone has a direct effect on libido and normal functioning penile tissue." When one or both of you is suffering from sleep deprivation, everything—and we mean everything—starts going downhill.
Quick Fix: According to Pamela King, relationship expert and co-founder of stilldatingmyspouse.com, there's one easy trick to ensure you and your significant other are getting enough snooze-time together—take the TV out of the bedroom! "If you create an atmosphere of serenity in the bedroom, it will be a place of retreat and rest instead of one that is a catchall for everything, like TV watching, eating, talking, and more." Bottom line: Use the bedroom for two things only—sex and sleep.
Your Health Is at Serious Risk
It might seem obvious, but it's true: When you're sleep deprived, your brain and immune system are not functioning at full capacity—and long-term side effects aren't far behind. "Less than five hours of sleep per night can cause a rise in blood pressure, and a new study found that long-term sleep deprivation may cause dementia later in life," says Gail Saltz, MD, psychiatrist and author of Becoming Real: Defeating the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back. But that's not all. According to Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and stroke can all be exacerbated by lack of sleep. "In fact, several studies have found that you can induce fibromyalgia when not sleeping," she says.
Quick Fix: "Go to bed and wake up on a fixed schedule, avoid any screen time [including your iPhone], and don't exercise one hour before bed," Saltz recommends. No luck? Make an appointment with your primary care doctor to come up with a customized solution.