How Sleep Deprivation Affects Digestion
Time and again, people are constantly told about the harmful effects of sleep deprivation. From your mother’s warnings to you as a child all the way to those annoying ads about night-time herbal supplements as you watch videos online, sleep is without doubt one of the most important aspects of your health.
Not getting enough sleep may sound like a simple problem on the surface, but it can take a long time to remedy. Sleep deprivation can result in difficulty concentrating; it can also cause long-term damage when it happens to you regularly. In fact, researchers from George Washington University reveal that sleep deprivation can lead to more serious medical conditions down the road, such as hypertension, strokes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. Indeed, Maryville University researchers point out how chronic diseases will affect an estimated 164 million individuals in the country in the coming years. It’s unfortunate to think how part of this impending public health problem may arise from the growing issue of sleep deprivation.
Therefore, aside from the usual image of students falling asleep in class or shrieking toddlers, the effects of not getting enough sleep run deeper than you think. That’s because sleep is so crucial in the functioning and health of most of your body’s systems. The digestive system, for one, relies on sleep as a chance for it to rest after a full day of breaking down glucose for the rest of your body. Additionally, sleep gives you much-needed energy that is necessary for digestion to happen efficiently. Without the benefits of a good night’s sleep, here are some of the ways your digestive system will be compromised:
Since sleep is necessary for replenishing energy, a lack of it will result in an exacerbated need for additional energy sources. On top of this, your leptin levels, which control your appetite, are greatly reduced. This will affect the way you crave food, which most likely means you will reach for unhealthy snacks more than you usually do.
This is true even for the smartest and most health-conscious of us. Psychology Today notes how sleep deprivation damages high-level brain function, making you more inclined to poor decision-making — which explains the pile of junk food when you’re stressed and sleep deprived.
Similar to how stress can trigger gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a lack of sleep can also have detrimental effects on people who suffer from acid reflux. Increased cytokine levels as a result of sleep deprivation can worsen certain GERD symptoms, leading to problems during digestion.
Adding to the problem, individuals who suffer from GERD will have a hard time sleeping, as they often fall victim to heartburn at night time. This, in turn, contributes to sleep-onset insomnia.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Speaking of stress, the most common effect you are probably aware of is that you get grumpy or moody when you don’t get enough sleep. It’s not surprising then that a lack of sleep makes you more vulnerable to the effects of stress, which includes Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
With your body struggling to send nutrients to your other organs, your digestive system will begin to feel the effects as it is not considered a priority compared to your heart or lungs. As a result, you will likely suffer constipation or diarrhea with all the waste sitting in your digestive tract.
All in all, sleep deprivation can affect more than just your mood and your ability to stay awake in class or at work — it can also have adverse effects on how you consume and even think about food. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to avoid these consequences, like avoiding late night carb-heavy meals, giving yourself half an hour to just relax in bed, and sleeping in a more comfortable position. Of course, the best advice is still to put down your phone or your laptop, save the rest of your work for tomorrow, or skip that next episode from a series you’ve been binging, to finally get some much-needed sleep.
Feature article for spatzmedical.com
Written by Camille Tanner