Say you pull an all-nighter to get ahead at work, or you make it to an early-morning spin class. What do you get? Props for your hustle.
But you might be getting something else without realizing it: A case of exhaustion. And you may not even feel tired.
Surprisingly, “fatigue is not necessarily one of the main signs of sleep deprivation,” explains Holly Phillips, MD, author of The Exhaustion Breakthrough. (The Manhattan MD is also a familiar face on morning TV as a medical contributor for CBS News.)
“Getting used to it doesn’t mean that’s all [the sleep] you need. It means you forget what it feels like to have good sleep,” Dr. Phillips says of the “badge of honor” many of us wear proudly in our you-snooze-you-lose culture.
In fact, the first signs of sleep deprivation can be emotional, followed by cognitive, then physical.
1. You’re an emotional wreck. “Sleep deprivation increases risk of depression, anxiety, and being particularly reactive to stress,” Dr. Phillips says. (One 2007 study showed sleep-deprived brains are more reactive to disturbing images than those who had gotten sufficient shut-eye.) So if the printer being out of paper causes a meltdown…you might be sleep deprived.
2. You’re having trouble focusing. Find yourself zoning out at your desk more often than usual? The inability to stay alert or focused is a sign your brain needs more rest.
More reading: Cheat Sheet: How to get better sleep
3. You’re forgetful. “A lot of our memories are transferred from short- to long-term during sleep, especially during deep stages,” Dr. Phillips notes. So if you’re sleep-deprived, you might blank out on that new co-worker’s name—or you may get way too much use out of your Find My iPhone app.
4. You’re gaining weight. A good night’s sleep keeps “hunger hormones” ghrelin and leptin—which tell your body when it’s full vs. when it’s hungry—in balance, Dr. Phillips says. Plus, sleep is essential for insulin regulation, so skimping can throw off blood sugar levels, messing with your appetite further and upping your cravings for quick-energy foods like carbs and sugar. (In short, donuts are the perfect food for the exhausted.)
5. You’re walking into things. “Your motor responses are slower when you’re sleep deprived,” says Phillips. That’s why drowsy driving is so dangerous. When you’re not behind the wheel, this manifests itself as clumsiness.
6. You catch colds often. Sleep is also key for a healthy immune system, so getting too little can make you more susceptible to viruses. One 2009 study showed that people who sleep less than seven hours nightly are three times as likely to catch a cold than those who sleep eight or more.
7. You have a tough time falling asleep. “When you’re chronically sleep-deprived, certain hormone levels like cortisol become elevated,” Dr. Phillips explains. “It’s almost as though when sleep-deprived, your body is in a constant state of extreme arousal.” With cortisol streaming through your veins, it can make it difficult to fall asleep—which is frustratingly the exact opposite of what you need when you’re spent.
More reading: Power Swaps: The best way to get a great night’s sleep
8. Your skin is freaking out. They call it beauty sleep for a reason. Higher cortisol levels increase water retention (hello, puffy eyes) and inflammation, which makes a breakout more likely, Dr. Phillips says. “It also disrupts skin’s natural moisture barrier,” she adds, making skin more likely to be more dry, dull, and flaky.
9. Your stomach feels off. Yes, even your gut health can be affected by lack of sleep. “Lack of sleep disrupts bacterial balance in the intestines,” Dr. Phillips explains, which can cause stomach upset, either alternating constipation and diarrhea, or just general discomfort.
For more information, visit hollyphillipsmd.com
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