8 Side Effects of Lack of Sleep on Your Body

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

lack-of-sleep-due-to-smartphonesPeople have an inherent understanding of why sleep is important. It recharges the body during the night and lets us face each day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Of course, most people also suffer from a lack of sleep or a lack of quality sleep. This can be due to environmental factors—like noise—personal habits, health reasons, or stress.

Regardless of why you might be getting a lack of sleep, the side effects on your health will be the same.

Although it may seem like you can get by on subpar sleep without issue, the truth is that a lack of sleep causes a series of subtle and not-so-subtle detrimental effects on the body.

It Weakens the Immune System

A less immediately obvious side effect of sleep deprivation is the fact that your body won’t be able to muster its normal defenses. The immune system produces various substances—like cytokines and antibodies—to help keep foreign presences in check and nib any troubling bacteria or viruses in the bud.

These substances need to be renewed like any other part of the body and their production also needs to increase when an invader is detected. Both of these functions are slowed in cases of sleep deprivation. A lack of quality sleep means that you will find yourself falling prey more often to colds and minor infections and that any existing illnesses will take longer to heal.

It Gives You the Munchies

A lack of sleep causes your body to lower its amounts of the hormone leptin (appetite suppressant) and then raise its levels of ghrelin (appetite stimulant), meaning you will find yourself hungrier and more prone to overeat. The reason for this is relatively straightforward: if the body can’t sleep to recover its energy, then it will do so through another means.

Consequently, you will find yourself craving more sugary or fatty foods in order to get their easy boosts to energy levels. Additionally, your metabolism tends to slow down in cases of sleep deprivation. This, combined with the cravings and appetite changes, can lead to unwanted weight gain and the associated health issues.

Your Skin Will Suffer

You may have noticed that a lack of sleep can make someone appear older or give their skin a more worn-out appearance. This is because sleep is a prime time for the body to get to work on repairing damaged cells and renewing old ones. If you don’t get enough sleep, this can’t happen as effectively, and those old and damaged skin cells will start taking their toll on your appearance.

You Will Sleep Anyway

There is a phenomenon called micro-sleep that appears as a side effect of sleep deprivation. It’s when your brain effectively falls asleep for short intervals—usually no more than five seconds or so at a time. In addition to being disorienting and confusing, micro-sleep can be extremely dangerous if it should happen when you are doing activities like driving.

Your Coordination Will Suck

A lack of sleep generally makes you weaker since your muscles lack their normal levels of energy. This is one of the reasons why your eyelids might get heavy or you have vision problems when sleep deprived—the muscles that control eye movement are faltering.

Your ability to process space and coordinate your body will also suffer. This is most obviously apparent when trying to engage in precision tasks, but it can show in any number of ways—tripping, bonking into things, or having trouble with stairs being the most common. Simply going up or down a staircase involves a surprising amount of processing power and coordination.

Lack of Emotional Control

It takes a fair bit of energy and mental power to not do something. When sleep deprived, this ability is restricted and you will find yourself more inclined to blurt things out or otherwise act more impulsively. You will also be more susceptible to emotional stimulus and will be more prone to bouts of anxiety, anger, sadness, or giddiness, depending on what you’re exposed to. Heightened irritability is, of course, also going to show up.

Memory Failures

A lack of sleep makes it harder to recall memories and to form new ones. The weaker ability to recall comes from the general sluggishness and slowing of the brain’s processing power when sleep deprived. The difficulty in forming new memory is slightly more involved. Basically, it is easier to remember things when you are actually focusing on them.

The reason it’s easy to forget where you put your keys is because such activities are usually done without thought or attention. When sleep deprived, you can’t focus as well and consequently, your brain can’t form memories as well as you might like. Not surprisingly, the memory problems increase the longer you stay awake. In 1959, radio DJ Peter Tripp kept himself up to raise money for the March of Dimes. By hour 100, he had forgotten the alphabet.


Visual disturbances and hallucinations tend to kick in during prolonged cases of sleep deprivation. Although these can be terrifying and aggravate certain psychological conditions, their historical documentation can also be fascinating. In the case of the above-mentioned Peter Tripp, his hallucinations began at around the 120-hour mark. Among other results, he became convinced his shoes were full of spiders, that a desk drawer was on fire, and that a man in a dark overcoat was an undertaker.

More famous is the case of Randy Gardner, who stayed up for eleven days straight (264 hours) in 1963 as part of what was originally a high school science fair project. On day four, the white, skinny, 130 pound 17-year-old began hallucinating that he was ‘Paul Lowe’, a black football player for the San Diego Chargers.

Incidentally, at the end of their respective deprivations, both Tripp and Gardner went to sleep for about 13-14 hours and woke up without any long term effects.