How does sleep loss affect your health?

Why insomnia is so dangerous in the long run

Insomnia is a strain on the body and mind. The most important consequences of a lack of recovery at a glance

At least one in ten Germans suffers from chronic sleep disorders, cannot rest at night, is tired and limp during the day - and those affected are painfully aware of the negative consequences of insufficient recovery at all times.

But far more people in this country continue to sleep too little because they do not allow themselves enough rest time. Because they think that otherwise they will not be able to meet the diverse requirements in professional and private life. Or because they believe they can get along well with little sleep.

Many who ultimately forego part of the night's rest of their own volition are not aware of the consequences permanent lack of sleep can have on their health and performance.

Sleep doctors compare the effects of too little sleep with those of a night of drinking: If you sleep for less than six hours for a number of nights in a row, you are in a state as if you had a per mille of alcohol in your blood: reaction speed, judgment and memory are restricted.

Above all, the body and mind suffer permanently from a lack of sleep, and the risk of diseases such as cancer, dementia and diabetes increases.

The lack of sleep has many effects on our organism, especially on the immune system, metabolism, heart and circulation, brain and spirit as well as muscles and connective tissue.

This is how insomnia affects our immune system

An increased susceptibility to infections is often the result of too little sleep. Our immune system needs the resting phase to effectively fight off pathogens: During sleep, the number of antibodies increases, which specifically capture harmful bacteria and viruses and deliver them to the killer cells of the immune system. At the same time, sleep is important to strengthen the memory of the immune system so that it can react even better to pathogens in the future. The advice “sleep yourself well” should therefore be taken seriously.

Vaccinations show the same thing: Sufficient sleep the night after the vaccination leads to a stronger immune response with more antibodies against the pathogen. With less sleep, the immune response is weaker.

The natural killer cells of the immune system also react to lack of sleep: Lymphocytes of this type look, among other things, for mutated cells from which tumors can develop - and destroy them. After only one short night, the number of these killer cells drops drastically. Permanent lack of sleep or shift work therefore increase the risk of cancer.

This is how our metabolism reacts to insomnia

Insufficient sleep increases the risk of overweight, obesity and diabetes. The hormone insulin regulates the blood sugar level and smuggles the sugar into the cells - but lack of sleep disrupts this process. Studies have shown that subjects who only sleep four to five hours a night become insulin-resistant and their cells are no longer able to absorb sugar from the blood. If the lack of sleep lasts longer, one can develop type 2 diabetes as a result of insulin resistance. Other hormones also get out of rhythm due to a lack of sleep: We get hungry when we should be asleep. Due to the daytime sleepiness associated with the sleep deficit, the desire for exercise also decreases.

This happens to our cardiovascular system when we don't get enough sleep

Just one to two hours less sleep per night increases the heart rate and blood pressure in the vessels, because part of our nervous system reacts to a lack of sleep in a similar way to an external threat. For example, the level of the stress hormone cortisol increases in the blood. Permanent lack of sleep perpetuates this inner alarm. In the long term, this increases the risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke.

The brain and mind also react to sleep disorders

Permanently disturbed or decreased sleep, especially a lack of deep sleep, may contribute to the development of degenerative diseases of the nervous system such as Parkinson's disease and various dementias. In the case of chronic lack of sleep, for example, certain metabolic products (beta-amyloids) are not sufficiently removed from the brain tissue and form deposits there that could be associated with Alzheimer's disease. Since deep sleep is also important for memory performance and the anchoring of new information, cognitive abilities also decrease in the event of a deficiency. Even young people can feel this: Even a single night that is too short reduces memory and productivity.

Lack of sleep affects muscles and connective tissue

The body uses sleep to repair injuries, remove harmful substances and initiate recovery processes. It is also important for growth hormone. This messenger substance is released mainly during sleep and especially during deep sleep and regulates, among other things, the growth of muscles and bone mass. In addition, it helps to clean the innermost layer of the blood vessels from dangerous deposits. All of these processes are reduced in the case of insomnia or lack of sleep.