What Happens to Your Body If You Don’t Let It Sleep

Sleep Problems

Story at-a-glance -

  • Sleep deprivation, such as pulling an all-nighter, can lead to short-term euphoria, however, your brain’s rational, decision-making regions largely shut down when sleep deprived, which means you may be in a precarious mental state that encourages you to take risks you normally would not
  • Sleep deprivation for as little as 29 hours has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress or disease
  • Sleep deprivation is linked to psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and bipolar depression, while getting the right amount of sleep has been linked to positive personality characteristics such as optimism and greater self-esteem, as well as a greater ability to solve difficult problems

By Dr. Mercola

When's the last time you pulled an all-nighter in order to cram for a college exam, prepare an important work presentation or socialize out on the town? If you can't remember, that's a very good thing, as depriving your body of sleep in this way can lead to some very serious – and surprising – health effects.

"A Neurological Cycle of Degeneration"

This is how the author of the featured article described frequent sleep deprivation, such as pulling all-nighters regularly throughout your four years at college. In the short-term it can impact your mood, memory and ability to focus and drive a vehicle.

Interestingly, it can also lead to short-term euphoria, making you feel motivated and happy. At the same time, however, your brain's rational, decision-making regions largely shut down when sleep deprived, which means you may be in a precarious mental state that encourages you to take risks you normally would not.1

And because your brain has the ability to adapt, known as "neural plasticity," this means that if you neglect sleep for long enough, your brain may permanently change as a result.

And, sleep deprivation for as little as 29 hours has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress or disease,2 which is why you may feel ill after a sleepless night.

Sleeping well is one of the cornerstones of optimal health, and if you ignore your poor sleeping habits, you will, in time, pay a price. Your circadian rhythm (or sleep-wake cycle) "drives" the rhythms of biological activity at the cellular level. Hence disruptions tend to cascade outward throughout your entire body. For example, besides impairing your immune function, interrupted or impaired sleep can also:

Increase your risk of heart disease and raise your blood pressure

Harm your brain by halting new neuron production. Sleep deprivation can increase levels of corticosterone (a stress hormone), resulting in fewer new brain cells being created in your hippocampus

Aggravate or make you more susceptible to stomach ulcers

Contribute to a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you've already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight

Increase your risk of cancer

Contribute to premature aging by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training)

Worsen constipation

Increase your risk of dying from any cause


Furthermore, lack of sleep can exacerbate chronic diseases such as:

Parkinson's Alzheimer's
Gastrointestinal tract disorders Kidney disease
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Behavioral problems in children

Proper Sleep Can Give You a Self-Esteem Boost

Sleep deprivation can cause changes in your brain activity similar to those experienced by people with psychiatric disorders,3 and it's linked to anxiety and bipolar depression. But did you know that getting the right amount of sleep can enhance your personality and make it more positive?

Sleeping for seven to eight hours a night has been linked to positive personality characteristics such as optimism and greater self-esteem compared to those with insomnia or who slept for less than 6 hours (or longer than 9 hours) a night.4 It would be VERY unwise to sleep less than 6 hours for any length of time as that will lead to poor health and radically increase your risk of diabetes.5

As an added bonus, when you "sleep on it," new research shows you're better able to solve difficult problems,6 which means the best choice if you have an important exam or work dilemma to face in the morning is not to stay up all night thinking about it, but rather to get a good night's sleep!

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How do You Know if You're Getting Proper Sleep?

If you feel well-rested in the morning, that's a good sign that your sleep habits are just fine. But if not, you might want to investigate your sleep patterns more closely.

You could have a professional evaluation in a sleep laboratory for a comprehensive diagnosis if you think you may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder interfering with quality sleep, or consider the Zeo, a useful new tool that is available on Amazon for under $100.

It is essentially a sleep lab that you can perform every night on yourself. It will not only tell you how long you are sleeping but when you wake up, how long you are awake, and the length and times of your REM, light and deep sleep. It then provides you with a summary sleep score that can tell you how well you slept during the night. You can then use this information to help fine tune your sleep program and monitor the effectiveness of any interventions.

Why You Might Want to Consider Getting "Grounded" While You Sleep

You are an electrical being – your body regularly produces positive charges, which can oxidize and harm you if excessive. In fact, new research found that your biological clock uses electrical activity in order to help keep your circadian behavioral rhythms in order.7

The Earth's surface is electrically conductive as well; it maintains a negative charge with its free electron supply continually replenished by the global atmospheric electrical circuit.

There is growing research showing that this connection to the Earth's surface plays a vital role in preventing disease and offers a host of benefits from improved sleep to pain relief. To put it simply, it's thought that the influx of free electrons from the Earth's surface will help to neutralize free radicals and reduce both acute and chronic inflammation, which is at the root of many health conditions and accelerated aging. The problem, of course, is that while humans have historically spent much of their days with their bare skin next to the Earth (both while walking and sleeping, including on animal skins, which still allow electrons to enter the body), today this vital connection has been lost.

As written in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine:8

"It is well established, though not widely known, that the surface of the earth possesses a limitless and continuously renewed supply of free or mobile electrons as a consequence of a global atmospheric electron circuit. Wearing shoes with insulating soles and/or sleeping in beds that are isolated from the electrical ground plane of the earth have disconnected most people from the earth's electrical rhythms and free electrons.

...A previous study demonstrated that connecting the human body to the earth during sleep (earthing) normalizes the daily cortisol rhythm and improves sleep. A variety of other benefits were reported, including reductions in pain and inflammation. Subsequent studies have confirmed these earlier findings and documented virtually immediate physiologic and clinical effects of grounding or earthing the body."

Most of you reading this are probably not too keen on the idea of swapping your bed for an animal skin on the ground, so the other option is to use a grounding or Earthing pad, which allows you to get the benefits of the Earth's electrons even if you're indoors, especially when you're sleeping. I've been using one for several months now.

Tips for Improving the Quality of Your Sleep

There are many factors that can influence your sleep, but one that many fail to consider is the use of light-emitting technology, such as your TV, iPad, and computer, before going to bed. These emit the type of light that will suppress melatonin production, which in turn will hamper your ability to fall asleep, as well as impact your cancer risk (melatonin helps to suppress harmful free radicals in your body and slows the production of estrogen, which can activate cancer). Ideally, you'll want to turn all such light-emitting gadgets off at least an hour prior to bedtime.

Next, making some adjustments to your sleeping area can also go a long way to ensure uninterrupted, restful sleep. I suggest you read through my full set of 33 healthy sleep guidelines for all of the details, but to start:

  1. Cover your windows with blackout shades or drapes to ensure complete darkness. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your pineal gland's production of melatonin and the melatonin precursor serotonin, thereby disrupting your sleep cycle.
  2. So close your bedroom door, get rid of night-lights, and refrain from turning on any light during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. If you have to use a light, install so-called "low blue" light bulbs in your bedroom and bathroom. These emit an amber light that will not suppress melatonin production.

  3. Keep the temperature in your bedroom at or below 70 degrees F (21 degrees Celcius). Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees F (15.5 to 20 C). Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep.
  4. Check your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs). These can also disrupt your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects as well. To do this, you need a gauss meter. You can find various models online, starting around $50 to $200. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to kill all power in your house.
  5. Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your head. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least three feet.