The dangers of not sleeping
You know how it goes: A night of bad sleep—whether you were socializing at the bar till the wee hours or you suffer from insomnia—means a foggy brain and bodily exhaustion the next day. If you need help sleeping sounder, check out these 13 secrets from sleep doctors. However, that fatigue is often accompanied by a strange sensation of jitters, too, making the discomfort twofold. You’re anxious, and you really need a nap.
“When we are looking at sleep and its impact on our psyche, we have to start at the root, which leaves us a chicken and egg situation,” holistic and certified adult sleep strategist Christine Hansen says. “On the one hand, psychological stress can have physical consequences, such as hormonal dysregulation or gut damage, both of which lead to sleep disturbances. On the other hand, those physical issues make it harder for our psyche to deal with stress.” Your tolerance for stress then dips, Hansen added, forcing a vicious cycle.
According to Richard Shane, PhD, a sleep psychotherapist, poor slumber is attributed to a vast number of medical conditions.
“Studies show that lack of sleep can increase stress, anxiety, depression, anger and irritability, impair your ability to think clearly, decrease energy and productivity, and contribute to a wide range of physical health problems,” Dr. Shane says.
Your brain minus sleep
When you’re sleeping, your brain is actually shrinking, Hansen says. “The cerebral fluid in it is basically cleaning up any toxins that have built up during the day,” she adds. This process is key to easing stress on the mind—it fits in nicely with these 10 natural ways to ease anxiety. “Those toxins can accelerate genetically predisposed mental illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.”
Hansen says missing out on this process could impact your mental health. “Let’s say you are someone who is on the verge of falling into depression; sleep deprivation can be the final trigger to make you tip over the edge or accelerate the process to go there.”
Dr. Shane agrees: Without sleep, “the next day your body feels stressed and has a residual buildup of toxins, which contributes to anxiety and depression,” he says. “Because your brain did not delete much of the unnecessary, overwhelming sensory input from the previous day, your brain feels noisy and cluttered, which contributes to anxiety.”
Additionally, your nerves are more activated, leaving you feeling agitated. You don’t think as clearly as you would had you slept better, and you may make poor decisions throughout the day. All of this contributes to a general sense of anxiousness and can worsen pre-existing conditions, such as OCD.
“The area of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) in charge of thinking, reasoning and logic is less active and the area of the brain (the amygdala) in charge of emotions such as fear, anxiety and anger is more active,” Dr. Shane says.