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Six health issues that can arise from not getting enough sleep

Scientists have been researching sleep for decades and decades and they still don’t fully understand why humans need to sleep. What they do know for sure is that not getting enough sleep can cause serious health issues, especially over time.

The long-term effects of poor sleep or sleep deprivation have now been linked to these five medical conditions. As such, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll make sure you’re getting quality sleep on a regular basis to keep your physical and mental health in tip-top shape.

Weight gain

Habitually not getting enough sleep can quickly lead to weight gain. The reason for this is multifaceted. First of all, sleeping less means the body releases more cortisol, the stress hormone. As a result, people who sleep less are more likely to be plagued with anxiety, which can then trigger weight gain because of poor eating habits.

Habitually not getting enough sleep can quickly lead to weight gain.

When a person is regularly sleep-deprived, their body also produces more of another hormone called ghrelin, which makes us feel hungrier and generally leads to eating more. Missing out on sleep also impacts our metabolism and energy levels. When people feel tired, they are more likely to make unhealthy choices, including what they eat and how much exercise they get.

That’s why one of the most common and noticeable side effects of sleep deprivation is rapid weight gain.

Memory loss

Research seems to indicate that sleep is essential for information to commit to both our short-term and long-term memory. That is, if we’re not getting good sleep or enough sleep, you’re much more likely to suffer from memory loss. Luckily, memory can begin to be restored even after one night of good sleep.


It’s normal to feel grumpy if you haven’t gotten enough sleep or haven’t slept well. However, that magnifies into something much more serious over time. Sleep deprivation can lead to clinical depression, in part because of the accompanying lack of motivation that stems from not having enough energy.

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The brain and body regulate mood and sleep cycles with a hormone called melatonin. Interestingly, people who have been diagnosed with depression are often found to have lower levels of melatonin. The science on this is still underway, but even with what is known now, there seems to be a clear connection between getting enough sleep and depression.

Lowered immune system functioning

When we sleep, the immune system releases cytokines, a kind of protein that helps us ward off sickness. So, not getting enough sleep means the amount of cytokines produced by the body is lowered. People who suffer from regular sleep deprivation or those who don’t get quality sleep regularly are more likely to get sick. It also typically takes them longer to recover from illnesses. Sleep is necessary for the body to be most effective at fighting infectious diseases of all kinds, ranging from the common cold to much more serious illnesses.

People who suffer from regular sleep deprivation or those who don’t get quality sleep regularly are more likely to get sick.

Bone problems

One cause of osteoporosis might be sleep deprivation. A study on menopausal women in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that the bone mineral density of women who didn’t get at least five hours a night was much lower than those who did. Those extra two hours a night really can make a difference.


When we don’t get enough sleep, we are significantly increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The body needs to sleep in order for us to properly process glucose and how much insulin we produce as well. More specifically, five hours of sleep per night is not enough to keep those processes running smoothly.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

The snooze button makes you sleepier | Living 101 

Better sleep starts with cutting out bad habits — like hitting the snooze button. 

3 ways that sleep deprivation affects your workplace performance | Living 101

Bad sleep affects more than just your health — it can affect your job performance, too.