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5 ways that sleep deprivation affects your health

22/01/2016 | By Freedom Health Insurance

A bad night’s sleep could make you feel a little grumpy in the morning, but how does it affect your body and long term health? We’ve collected together details from a number of respected medical sources so that you see what losing a few hours of shut-eye might do – and even when sleep deprivation might actually be beneficial.

1. Lack of sleep could be linked to weight gain

Recent studies have suggested an association between sleep duration and weight gain. In one study, recurrent sleep deprivation in men increased their preferences for high-calorie foods and their overall calorie intake (1). In another study, women who slept for five hours or less a night were more likely to gain 11 pounds (5 kilograms) compared with women who slept seven hours a night (2).

A New Zealand study of children aged 3 to 7 published in the British Medical Journal in 2011 has found a possible link between sleep deprivation and weight gain. It concluded that young children of both sexes who are deprived of the adequate amount of sleep are at greater risk of becoming overweight and developing a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) due to a higher level of body fat (3).

2. Sleep deprivation could be linked to diabetes

There have been a range of studies conducted into how lack of sleep can affect diabetics, as people who have the condition can have trouble sleeping due to high levels of blood sugar (4). However, some studies have found that there could be a link between poor levels of sleep and developing the condition in the first place.

A study published by the Endocrine Society found that people who stay awake later at night may be more prone to diabetes than early risers, even if they get the same amount of sleep (5). Meanwhile, other studies found that poor sleep could be a risk factor for diabetes (6) (7) (8).

However, the causes of diabetes are complex, including ethnicity, health, environment, and family history, so sleep deprivation alone is not necessarily enough to cause the onset of the condition (9).

3. Sleep deprivation can affect memory

A study published by the Journal of the Royal Medical Society suggests that sleep is necessary in order for the brain to be able to consolidate memory.

However, the study also proposed that sleep deprivation might actually be useful in certain circumstances, for instance after a traumatic event when it may be beneficial for the patient to forget the experience and potentially avoid post-traumatic stress disorder. However, the study also pointed out that further research would be necessary (10).

4. Sleep deprivation can affect sex drive

A study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that getting enough sleep is important for healthy sexual desire in women (11). Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that sleep deprivation led to lowered levels of testosterone in young men, which can also lead to reduced libido (12).

5. Lack of sleep could make you less attractive

It seems that there may be something in the old wives’ tale of getting your ‘beauty sleep’. A study published in the British Medical Journal (13) looked at the perceived health and attractiveness of people who had been sleep deprived, and found that a lack of sleep made people look less attractive and less healthy than when the subjects were well rested.

The researchers suggested that this may mean that we as humans are able to detect facial cues which indicate how much sleep other people have had.


Scientists are still researching the benefits of sleep and why we actually need to sleep at all. The purpose of sleep seems to be a complex one so we should expect future studies to uncover more about how sleep levels can affect our health.

Related Articles  

1. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Acute Sleep Deprivation Enhances the Brain's Response to Hedonic Food Stimuli: An FMRI Study [Online] Available here.   
2. Journal of Sleep Research, Association of sleep duration with weight and weight gain: a prospective follow-up study [Online] Available here.  
3. BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL Longitudinal analysis of sleep in relation to BMI and body fat in children: the FLAME study [Online] Available here.
4. DIABETES.CO.UK. Diabetes and Sleep [Online] Available here.
5. ENDOCRINE SOCIETY Night Owls Face Greater Risk of Developing Diabetes than Early Risers [Online] Available here.
6. SLEEP Sleep Duration as a Risk Factor for Diabetes Incidence in a Large US Sample [Online] Available here.
7. DIABETES CARE Short Sleep Duration and Poor Sleep Quality Increase the Risk of Diabetes in Japanese Workers With No Family History of Diabetes [Online] Available here.
8. DIABETES.CO.UK Losing weekday sleep could increase risk of type 2 diabetes [Online] Available here.
9. DIABETES.CO.UK Causes of Diabetes [Online] Available here.
10.RES MEDICA A sleep to remember: the effects of sleep on memory [Online] Available here.
11.THE JOURNAL OF SEXUAL MEDICINE The Impact of Sleep on Female Sexual Response and Behavior: A Pilot Study [Online] Available here.
12.JAMA Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men [Online] Available here.
13.BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL Beauty sleep: experimental study on the perceived health and attractiveness of sleep deprived people [Online] Available here.