7 ways sleep deprivation is killing your health and career

Everybody loves crawling into bed after a long day… but not everybody has the time (or the willpower) to step away from the task at hand and call it a night at a reasonable hour. However, skipping sleep to prioritize work may actually be doing your career (and your health) more harm than good.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults require seven to nine hours of consecutive sleep per night. Scientific studies have shown that restful sleep promotes healthy brain functioning including concentration, productivity, and cognition. In fact, sleep literally clears and restores the brain by flushing out toxins that build up during waking hours.

A person who is sleep-deprived may have low frustration tolerance, a short fuse, moodiness, grumpiness, raw nerves, and vulnerability to losing their temper. According to Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist, someone who is sleep-deprived also has a thinner barrier of self-protection from emotional injuries and hurts that they might ordinarily let it roll off. Most people can deal with one or two nights of minimal or disrupted sleep but by the third consecutive night, most will experience severe exhaustion and actual feelings of anger and frustration.

Essentially, if you’re not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, you’re not going to perform at your best and your health, career, and personal relationships will begin to suffer.

We spoke to sleep experts to better understand exactly how sleep deprivation is hurting your personal and professional life. If these sound familiar, you may want to reevaluate the amount of sleep you’ve been getting.

You will get sick more frequently

Sleep deprivation hurts your health because your body needs sleep for brain processing and organ functioning and repair,” explains Patricia DeAngelis, Founder, SleepGrace, “Your brain has 7 to 9 hours of repair and restoration that it needs to complete, but if you sleep for less than 7 hours, then your body does not have a chance to repair itself.”

There is no other way to do that other than to sleep. If your brain does not make up the sleep debt that you have incurred (say by sleeping five to six hours each night regularly), then your immune system function decreases and your body’s ability to fight disease drastically reduces. Essentially, your body’s protective mechanisms are shot down and so you are much more vulnerable to infectious disease and stress.

Your leadership skills will suffer
Sleep deprivation hurts your career because sleep affects every part of your brain including stress hormones. People cannot perform optimally on less than seven hours of sleep per night.

“Sleep deprivation negatively affects all aspects of your career including day-to-day responsibilities, efficiency, decision-making, leadership, and teamwork,” says DeAngelis, “When you are sleep deprived, your concentration becomes poorer, your productivity decreases, and your cognitive skills suffer. Essentially, you are poorly equipped to complete your daily tasks, lead employees, or even interact with co-workers in a positive way when you are sleep-deprived.”

You jeopardize your mental health

Chronic lack of sleep can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. What’s more, sleep deprivation activates the amygdala, the part of the brain involved in processing primitive “fight or flight” emotions. Studies show that sleep loss can cause loss of emotional control, sadness, and a more negative outlook. “Even minimal sleep loss can cause detrimental mood changes over time. Insomnia is a well-known symptom of depression, and maybe a cause of depression, as well.” explains Rose MacDowell, Chief Research Officer, Sleepopolis.

You’re more likely to gain weight

According to MacDowell, just one night of inadequate sleep disrupts the metabolism, increasing levels of hunger hormones and signaling the body to store the extra energy as fat. The same hunger hormones can also cause you to crave sugar and simple carbohydrates, further increasing the risk of weight gain.

Your sex life might suffer

Sleep deprivation lowers levels of testosterone in both men and women, impacting sex drive. Studies show that testosterone in healthy young men can drop as much as 15% after just five days of insufficient sleep. What’s more, if you’re crawling into bed, exhausted, every night, you’ll likely feel like going straight to sleep.

You’re more likely to get in a car accident

There’s a reason why Uber caps its drivers working hours. “Research proves that tired driving is as dangerous as drunk driving,” says MacDowell, “Sleep loss affects concentration and response time, making driving or operating machinery significantly more dangerous.”

You’re less likely to learn or remember new concepts.

“Sleep is essential for storing memories,” says MacDowell, “making even short-term sleep deprivation a danger to your career.” Not only will your skillset remain stagnant, but you’ll also run the risk of falling behind or remembering to complete new tasks or assignments.

According to DeAngelis, there are three important factors to consider to receive optimal sleep: quality, duration, and consistency. If you want to receive all the benefits of sleep, it is important that sleep be restful and restorative. In order to attain restful and restorative sleep, one must fall asleep independently in a cool, dark sleep environment. Ideally, you should unplug your electronics at least one hour before bed in order to enable melatonin production, which will ensure quality sleep.

The duration of sleep matters too because your brain needs enough time to process the day’s events and promote healing and restoration for the rest of your body. Adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night to give the brain and body enough restful hours. The consistency also matters, because your body will naturally respond positively to a pattern of falling asleep at 10 pm for example and waking up at 6 am. It makes it easier for your brain and body to expect sleep at a certain time each day.