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Why Do We Sleep? And What Happens When We Don't?

Updated on August 2, 2016

The phrase ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ is especially applicable to sleep. Something we take for granted is very precious when it deserts us and if you’re reading this because you can’t sleep, don’t waste any time in taking action to remedy your situation.

There are plenty of reasons people can’t fall asleep and it’s estimated that 1 in 3 people suffer from insomnia at some time. The first part of solving your insomnia problem is to find your reasons.

Here we’re going to look at some of the symptoms people experience when they go for long periods without good quality sleep.

What happens to the body when we don't sleep?

  • Sleep is vital to help our brains process the information we’ve taken in and the experiences we’ve had during the day. When we’re unable to do this, and to switch off from all the stimuli around us, we can become irritable. Think of an over-tired child. It’s the same for adults. You may find that you are less tolerant of things you would normally not even notice, like others’ bad habits or repetitive sounds like a barking dog.
  • Anxiety and depression often lead to insomnia but insomnia is also a symptom of anxiety and depression. If you can’t think straight or stay rational, your confidence is also eroded. If you have a history of anxiety and/or depression then see your doctor sooner rather than later to get on top of the problem.
  • A decreased immunity to infection is common in insomniacs. When we sleep, not only is the mind resting and repairing, but the body is doing the same. This includes the immune system so you may find that opportunistic viruses such as colds and flu attack you where normally you wouldn’t be affected.
  • A tremor or shake when you’re really tired is also not uncommon. This can lead to poor hand-eye coordination which is dangerous if you work with machinery and frustrating if you’re a sports person or typist.
  • An increased reaction time is also dangerous if you’re driving and don’t process information about dangerous situations quickly enough. Falling asleep at the wheel of the car is also a big hazard.
  • There is a lot of evidence to show that people who don’t sleep well gain weight, especially at their midsections. If you’re not physically active because you’re tired, it’s easy to reach of the cookie jar, but also if you’re not sleeping because of stress, a raised level of the hormone cortisol can cause both weight gain and wakefulness as it’s a waking hormone. During sleep we release Growth Hormone (essential for the body to repair itself) and this also makes us burn fat. Lack of sleep means lack of growth hormone.
  • If you find your memory is worse since your insomnia started this is probably because the brain can’t process events and lay them down as memories. There’s a lot of evidence to show that learning before going to sleep can help recall but if your brain feels foggy this is much more difficult.

Finding the solution to your sleeplessness can be a long process but there are many solutions. One or a combination of a few might be what you need to employ to get you back to the land of nod. The links here may help.


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