Sleep Deprivation: A Cultural Crisis (Part 2 of Sleep: The Missing Link)

In Part 1 of Sleep: The Missing Link we discussed the lifestyle choices that have created a cultural crisis we are all experiencing; sleep deprivation.  You are reading this because you are improving your eating habits, focusing on nutrient-dense meals that will help you maintain health. You are attempting to work out more, adding in functional movements that will keep you physically capable for years to come. You have become more in tune with your body. You have created a greater understanding of its needs, and how to fulfill them in a healthy manner. You feel like you have everything dialed in, but something still feels off.

Sleep deprivation can create short term issues which can be remedied with a few simple lifestyle changes that we will discuss in Part 3. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School,these issues include effects on judgment, mood, your ability to learn and retain new information, and an increase in injury. If these issues are left untreated and increased sleep quantity and quality does not occur, the constant lack of sleep can drastically impact the quality of your life, leading to chronic health problems like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality. This post will focus on the impacts of lack of sleep and how it can affect every aspect of your life; mind, body and soul.

Health impacts


During sleep your brain is in rest and repair mode in preparation for another day. While you rest  your brain is hard at work, cementing new information you have recently learned.  The hippocampus takes that new knowledge creating and consolidating it into memories, filing them away to be accessed at a later date.

Cognitive Function-Sleep deprivation impacts the prefrontal cortex which is involved in decision making, goal oriented behaviors and impulse control. Lack of sleep inhibits your brain’s ability to process information and act accordingly, even after just two days of insufficient sleep according to a study from Washington State University. The ability to make split second decisions is greatly impacted leading to an inability to respond appropriately in a timely manner.

Dementia-Because sleep is required for building memories, it is no wonder that chronic sleep deprivation is now associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Deep sleep triggers communication between the hippocampus, the center of memory and emotion, and the prefrontal cortex, the center of short-term memory storage, together creating long-term memories. Researchers from UC Berkeley Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab found that beta-amyloid, a protein named for Alzheimer’s onset, is found in greater concentration in the brains of people who experience consistent sleep deprivation.


Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your body’s innate ability to repair. While you sleep your body is producing growth hormones to repair and restore.  These hormones are used to build muscles cells after your workouts and to heal any damaged cells. Cuts, nicks, and scrapes that may have occurred during the day continue the healing process during this time.

Cravings-According to the Journal of Health Psychology, inconsistent sleep patterns lead to a hormonal state in which leptin, your satiety hormone, and ghrelin, your hunger hormone,  cannot communicate accurately. This can lead to an increase in hunger signals, increased cravings for calorie-rich foods paired with a decreased desire for healthy foods like fruits and vegetable, and a substantial decrease in your mind/body’s ability to recognize you are full.  All of this miscommunication will inevitably lead to weight gain.

Immune Response-Getting plenty of sleep is vital to sustain a properly functioning immune system. While your body is repairing and creating new cells, it is also producing cytokines-small proteins important in cell signaling that regulate your immune response, infection-fighting antibodies and cells whose sole purpose is to fight off bacterial and viral invaders. Lack of sleep can weaken your defenses against viruses like the common cold and flu.


Sleep plays an important role in our ability to regulate emotions and processing of emotional events. This can lead to an ineffective ability to manage emotional challenges and how you respond to them.   Lack of sleep can also cause a higher sense of emotional distress and an increased negative perspective towards your life in general.

Moodiness-Due to the overall impairment of cognitive function, mood swings and short tempers also develop during sleep deprivation. The emotional regulation circuits in your brain start to malfunction. After just one sleepless night your irritability and vulnerability to stress can increase tenfold.

Depression-Chronic sleep issues may lead to long-term disorders like anxiety and depression. Sleep loss can aggravate the symptoms of depression, triggering mania in people who have manic depression. Depression can also make it more difficult to sleep, creating a vicious cycle of sleepless nights and despair. People with insomnia are five times more likely to develop depression according to a 2007 study shared in the publication Sleep. Other risks factors include impulsive behavior, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts.

This post was written to shed a brighter light on the dangerous, and often times permanent effects of sleep deprivation. While the information is a bit heavy it was not written to induce fear, but create awareness. In Part 3 of Sleep: The Missing Link we will discuss steps you can take to ensure a better night’s sleep.


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