cortisol levels

What Happens When You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults is sleep deprived. On average, an American woman sleeps for six hours a night, meanwhile, the American man only sleeps for five hours and forty-five minutes. There are a lot of reasons people are missing out on precious hours of sleep. Stress,cortisol levels bad eating and over tiredness are only some of the culprits for the cut out sleeping time. And it can deeply affect your overall health. 

If you’re in this situation, you need to do something about it! It’s never too late to start taking care of your sleeping habits and to begin a sleep hygiene routine. 

The Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Researchers have linked poor sleep to a myriad of health problems. Sleep deprivation can affect health and overall wellness such as your cortisol levels, energy levels, your immune system, your weight, and can contribute to chronic diseases and early death. Let’s take a look at some of these areas: 

What Happens To Your DNA 

Sleep deprivation also affects cognitive function and genetic makeup. On a cognitive level, it impacts your ability to focus and think clearly. You might have trouble focusing at work, making decisions, coping with stress, and driving. This not only puts you in a tough spot, but it can affect other people around you. 

When you’re skimping on sleep, your body’s reparative DNA and reparative functions are also put at risk. Without enough sleep, your body cannot build new cells and repair tissue damage. Over time, a lack of sleep takes a toll on your body’s ability to repair muscles from working out or from injuries. There is also evidence to show that DNA can be damaged and degenerative diseases become more prominent. 

Sleep Deprivation Increases Cortisol Levels 

Maybe the most notable changes from sleep deprivation are the ones linked to cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands as part of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is responsible for pushing out hormones into the circulatory system and into your body’s organs. 

Cortisol is released as a response to stress, low blood sugar, and is a large part of the Dinural cycle—the cycle of daytime and nighttime functioning in humans. If you’ve ever heard that you should be more alert during the day and wind down at night, it’s because cortisol is supposed to be heightened in the morning, and drop during the night when you should be sleeping. 

So when cortisol levels are imbalanced or constantly increased, it creates problems. Cortisol is the hormone that helps to control things like blood sugar levels, metabolism, anti-inflammatories, salt balance, blood pressure, and memory. In the long run, poor sleep and lack of sleep and increased cortisol levels at night may lead to things like high blood pressure, a decreased sex drive, depression, anxiety, mood changes and diabetes amongst others such as: 

  • Binge eating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • ADHD 
  • Heart disease 
  • Decreased motor functions
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Memory Lapses
  • Difficulty Concentrating 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Hormonal imbalances 
  • Poor work performance 



Cortisol, Leptin, and Ghrelin Greatly Effect Weight 

Cortisol is also the main culprit for to the increase in cortisol levels, it puts you at risk for weight gain and obesity. When your stress levels are increased and cortisol shoots up, a side effect is an increase in appetite. And it’s not that you’ll be reaching for the healthy snacks to fill your appetite. Most people opt for carbs and comfort foods because it helps to calm you down temporarily. 

And don’t forget the sugars! Remember when we said that cortisol is responsible for maintaining blood sugar levels? When your body produces too much cortisol, your cells can’t process sugar as effectively and you end up with increased blood sugar. The body can lose its ability to balance insulin as well. 

Then there’s the infamous metabolic rate that suffers. If you are sleep deprived, your body is duped into a state of “survival”, just making it to the next time it can recharge. That means it will be drawing on any resources to make it—whether it be eating away at your muscle or inducing hormone levels to make you feel hungry. 

Speaking of hunger, we should talk about “Leptin” and “Grehlin”? These two hormones are also part of your body’s method of signaling when you’re full and when you’re hungry. A hormonal imbalance will boost the levels of Grehlin in your body, telling you that you are hungry, and as a result, the Leptin in your body will decrease and your brain won’t notice when you are full. That means you’ll be overeating and reaching for food when your body doesn’t actually need it. 



In the Long Run…Poor Sleep Can Shorten Your Life 

Believe it or not, sleep deprivation can kill you. Several studies conducted over the years show that skimping on sleep increases the risk of death from all causes. 

In a study, medical professionals who only slept for three hours during a 24-hour shift developed cardiovascular problems. They experienced an increase in cortisol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and thyroid hormone. 

Moreover, lack of sleep impacts your ability to function in society. For instance, if you’re driving a car, you can fall asleep at the wheel. This can lead to injury and serious accidents. 

Make a habit out of sleeping at least eight hours a night. Change your bedtime routine, sip on hot tea, or take a warm bath. Limit your exposure to electronic devices at night. Your health and well-being depend on it. 

How To Get Enough Sleep

The best way to combat sleep deprivation is to start a nightly sleep hygiene routine. By making a routine for your body to follow, your hormones and cortisol levels will also fall into a routine. Here are a few ways you can ensure you get enough sleep: 

  • Set a time each night that you will shut off your electronics (especially your phone). This decreases the amount of stimulation.
  • Have a goal time in mind for when you would like to sleep. Keep this consistent throughout the week (yes, even on weekends!) 
  • Block out enough time in the night for sleeping, roughly 7-9 hours depending on your body. You’ll know what’s best and what makes you feel the most refreshed once you settle into this routine. Make sure you’re hitting the middle of your sleep between 12-4am, because this is when the body will be producing the least amount of cortisol, which gives your body the rest it needs
  • Make a sleeping journal so you can track your sleeping patterns, like when you actually make it to your bed, if you wake up at night, and what time you’re waking up in the mornings
  • Speaking of mornings, you should be setting an alarm for the same time every day, but once your body begins to settle into a sleep-wake pattern, you’ll be able to naturally wake up (maybe even before your alarm) 

It’s never too late to start sleeping smart. By including these tips in your day, you’ll be in control of your hormones, weight and stress levels, all by getting those precious Z’s. 

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