11 Signs You're Sleep Deprived
Time for bed
Knowing when you feel overtired isn’t exactly rocket science. You probably feel sluggish, weak, unproductive. Your pesky undereye circles may be more pronounced and your cravings stronger than ever.
You're always hungry
"If the brain is not getting the energy it needs from sleep it will often try to get it from food," says Chris Winter, MD, owner of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Virginia. Running low on rest can increase the production of ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone, in your gut. Too much ghrelin makes your body crave fatty and sugary foods, Dr. Winter says. Poor sleep can also mess with leptin, the satiety hormone. "When you're not sleeping properly you tend to eat more of what you're craving because you're not feeling the signals to stop eating," Dr. Winter says.
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You've gained weight
With an increased appetite comes another unpleasant symptom of sleep deprivation: weight gain. "When you're tired, you don't watch what you're eating," Dr. Winter says. "You just look for all kinds of things to help you feel more awake." With ghrelin and leptin already out of whack, your body will crave fried foods and sweets to get you through the day—a surefire way to widen your waistline. A lack of sleep can also have direct effects on your metabolism, Dr. Winter says; it tends to slow down without proper rest. What's more, a 2012 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that just four and a half hours of sleep for four days straight can reduce your fat cells' ability to respond to insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating energy, by 30%.
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You're more impulsive
People tend to act without thinking when they're exhausted, says Gail Saltz, MD, Health's contributing psychology editor. "Your ability to say, 'No, I shouldn't have another candy bar' becomes more difficult." This doesn't just apply to pigging out. You also might find yourself doing or saying things you don't necessarily mean, like lashing out at a spouse or ranting at a co-worker. "The main thing is you're less inhibited," says Kelly Baron, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University in Chicago.
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Your memory's shot
See what could be causing forgetfulness.
You're having trouble making decisions
If you've been finding it harder than usual to manage projects at work and home, lack of sleep could be the culprit. "Sleep deprivation can affect speed and higher-level cognitive processing," Baron says. That means essential functions, like problem solving or time management, become even more difficult to carry out. Take this 2009 study in Sleep: researchers asked both sleep-deprived and well-rested volunteers to perform a set of tasks that required quick decision-making two times. Between testing, the accuracy of those without quality sleep went down by 2.4%, while the rested group improved accuracy by 4.3%. All in all, poor sleep simply hinders your ability to react quickly.
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Your motor skills are off
Yes, tripping over a step might make you a klutz. But do it a few times in a day and it might just mean you're too tired to really focus on where you're going. "When you're tired, there's a lapse in how you neurologically function in general," Dr. Winter says. With lowered reaction time and concentration also comes more difficulty with movement. "When you walk up and down the stairs, there's a lot of processing going on there," Dr. Winter says. "When sleep deprived you can't process particularly well."
Your emotions are all over the place
You might feel like your emotions are out of control when you're sleep deprived. "You become over-reactive to emotional stimuli," Baron says. So things that normally haven't gotten you worked up in the past—a tear-jerking movie or big work deadline—may provoke anxiety, sadness, or anger. (It could also go the opposite way: "People can get slap-happy and giddy as well," Baron says.)
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You get sick often
Another thing that can suffer with poor sleep is your immune system. "If you're not sleeping properly there can be significant issues in terms of your body's ability to fight off infections," Dr. Winter says. In particular, you might find that it's harder to shake off a cold. A 2009 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine followed the sleeping habits of 153 volunteers for 14 days straight. Researchers found that people who got less than seven hours of sleep were nearly three times as likely to develop a cold than those who got eight hours or more rest a night. That could be because your immune system produces cytokines while you sleep, which are proteins that help protect against infections and inflammation, meaning a few nights of poor sleep could lower your body's defenses against pesky viruses.
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You're having trouble seeing
"When fatigued, you're not able to control the muscles of the eye as well," says Steven Shanbom, MD, an ophthalmologist in Berkley, Mich. First, skimping on shuteye tires out the ciliary muscle, which helps your eyes focus. The result: you'll have a harder time reading up close, Dr. Shanbom says. Then there's the extra ocular muscle, which moves the eye from side to side and up and down. "Many people have a muscle imbalance where their eyes don't track well together," Dr. Shanbom says, but in a well-rested person the eyes can compensate on their own. A lack of sleep makes the misalignment harder to control, potentially resulting in double vision. You might notice both of these vision problems after one night of poor sleep, but they will persist the less time you spend in bed.
Your skin isn't looking good
Of all the places on your body, you face can truly show your age if you don't take steps to keep your skin healthy. That includes common precautions such as maintaining a well-balanced diet that is rich in good fats and using UV protection. But there are also quite a few ways that you may be aging your face without knowing it. Watch the video for more.
You think you've fallen asleep at the wheel
When you nod off for a few seconds without even knowing, it's called micro-sleep. "The brain says, 'I don't care what you want to do. We are going to sleep,'" Dr. Winter says. It's your body's way of forcing you to get the rest you need. The big problem is that micro-sleep can be extremely dangerous if you happen to be driving. Between 2005 and 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 2.2% to 2.6% of total fatal crashes involved drowsy driving. If you ever feel overly sleepy on the road, a safer bet would be to pull over and rest until you feel up to taking the wheel again.
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