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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Angelica L Dumapit on September 21, 2022

Here’s How Sleep Deprivation Impacts Your Health

Need some motivation to go to bed early tonight? This article on how sleep deprivation affects your major organs should do the trick.

Sleepy min scaled

Can you die from sleep deprivation? It sure can feel like it sometimes.

Sleep deprivation refers to not getting enough sleep at night. This is easy to do if you stay up late trying to get things done.

For many people, nighttime is the only free time they have to catch up on work, emails, exercise, or even just a little downtime.

However, staying up too late can have serious health consequences on every organ in your body.

In this guide, we’ll explain what sleep deprivation does to your organs and why going to bed early is important.

How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Your Body?

Staying up late can have a major impact on your organs.

Here’s how sleep deprivation affects each organ in your body:

Heart 

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, sleeping time is rest time for our heart. Staying up late causes a disorder in our biological clock, and arrhythmia, which will affect our cardiovascular health and increases the risk of sudden death at the same time.

Researchers have found a direct link between staying up late and the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) in adults.

Blood pressure drops during sleep. Therefore, people who don’t get enough nighttime rest would be more likely to suffer from hypertension, a risk factor for heart disorders like stroke.

Evidence has also found a correlation between later bedtime and other causes of CVD, including diabetes and obesity. It worsens glycemic control in type 2 diabetes and leads to a higher body mass index (BMI).

Low-quality sleep has also been found to trigger inflammation and stimulate atherosclerosis. A condition where plaque builds up in the arteries and limits the blood flow to the heart and other organs, atherosclerosis can result in death.

Liver 

In a 2017 study, scientists discovered that the liver adapts to your sleep-and-wake cycle and functions according to it.

Our liver learns your body’s circadian rhythm by taking notes of its active (daytime) and passive (night) phases. Because of this, your liver expands during the day and shrinks to its original size at night.

Staying up late would confuse and disturb the workings of the liver. Another study published in 2020 has also found that insufficient nocturnal sleep can increase the risk of liver fibrosis

Likewise, TCM believes that sleeping late can disrupt the Liver’s performance. Blood circulation focuses on our Liver between 11 pm and 3 am.

If we’re still awake during that time, our Liver will have to work harder and may impair itself. Since it plays a huge role in eliminating toxins, a damaged Liver will severely affect your health. 

Intestine

According to TCM, your stomach lining undergoes restoration at night, and staying up late will affect its restorative process. In addition to this, if we eat during these hours, it will increase the burden on our stomachs. Gradually, it might cause stomach problems like a stomach ulcer.

Evidence shows that our sleep-wake cycle is influenced by the release of cytokines. These are small proteins that regulate the growth and activity of other cells.

Consequently, sleep loss can activate inflammatory cytokines found in most gastrointestinal disorders like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and colorectal cancer.

In addition, shorter sleep duration is associated with obesity, a risk factor for GERD and colorectal cancer. 

What’s more, people who stay up late usually eat during the recommended sleeping hours. This unhealthy behavior can further affect your weight. 

Brain 

TCM states that our sympathetic nerve should rest at night, as it should be active during the daytime to sustain a day’s work. When we lack sleep, our sympathetic nerves remain active, and we will be tired the next day. We will feel dizzy, have slow reactions, be forgetful, and have headaches, which can affect our work efficiency. If the situation is not resolved, it will cause neurasthenia and insomnia.

Sleep disruption can impact your cognitive performance and ability to react, pay attention, and memorize, among others.

As you sleep, your blood pressure dips. However, this natural process doesn’t happen with all-nighters. In turn, your sympathetic nervous system is activated at night, causing stress

Sleep also helps clear out toxic substances like beta-amyloid protein. It’s found in dementia patients and deteriorates their cognitive function.

Skin

A good night’s rest can help give you better-looking skin.

According to TCM, if you are not sleeping well at night, your Liver will have to work overtime and it will not get proper rest. The Liver, once damaged, will cause toxins to accumulate in our body, leading to problems like rough skin, yellowish facial complexion, pigmentation, dark circles under our eyes, and pimples.

Poor sleep quality can manifest in several skin-related issues, particularly around the eyes and mouth. This may be due to fatigue that causes droopy eyelids and mouth corners.

A 2015 study found a link between chronic poor sleep quality and skin aging. People who sleep for seven to nine hours daily have better skin barrier functions and are satisfied with their physical attractiveness. This is in comparison to people who sleep for less than five hours a day.

Kidneys 

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, people who are sleep-deprived long-term will experience a decline in their kidney function and have proteinuria, which means excessive protein found in their urine. Eventually, it might cause kidney diseases.

2017 study found that people with poor sleep quality have increased glomerular hyperfiltration, which occurs when the kidneys produce excessive amounts of urine. This condition is associated with the early phases of kidney disease.

Another study reached a similar conclusion. The finding revealed that sleep disturbance could trigger proteinuria (excessive protein in the urine), causing kidney diseases. 

Going To Bed On Time Prevents Sleep Deprivation

Sleeping on time, getting quality sleep, and not staying up late are necessary to maintain your health.

According to TCM, the ideal bedtime is 11 pm, based on the circulation of wei qi throughout the body and meridians (the channels where our qi, blood and body fluids move). Wei qi goes through the yang meridians 25 times during daytime and then 25 more times throughout yin meridians at night-time.

When wei qi flows through a meridian, it will spend around two hours in it. There, wei qi will vitalize and strengthen the organs correlated with the said meridian. Afterward, wei qi will resume its journey to the next meridian, where it will repeat its action to nourish other organs.

The chart below depicts which meridians wei qi visits and the organs it interacts with during its 24-hour circulation:

1 am – 3 am Liver 
3 am – 5 am Lungs 
5 am – 7 am Large intestines 
9 am – 11 am Spleen 
11 am – 1 pm Heart 
1 pm – 3 pm Small intestines 
3 pm – 5 pm Bladder 
5 pm – 7 pm Kidneys 
7 pm – 9 pm Kidneys 
9 pm – 11 pm Triple burner (the system that manages the movement of water) 
11 pm – 1 am Gall bladder 
This chart shows each organ system that is nourished during the night when you sleep.

If you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, you may want to consider taking an herbal sleep supplement to help regulate your body’s internal clock. This can help reduce anxiety, promote relaxation and train your body to know when it’s bedtime.

This is an adaptation of an article, “Can You Regain Your Sleep After Staying Up Late?” that first appeared on the Eu Yan Sang website

References

  1. Sleep Health. 2015. National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary 
  2. Oxford Academic. 2021. Accelerometer-derived sleep onset timing and cardiovascular disease incidence: a UK Biobank cohort study.
  3. National Institutes of Health. 2019. How disrupted sleep may lead to heart disease 
  4. Science Daily. 2017. The liver increases by half during the day 
  5. SAGE Journals. 2020. Insufficient nocturnal sleep was associated with a higher risk of fibrosis in patients with diabetes with metabolic associated fatty liver disease
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2015. Sleep Dysfunction and Gastrointestinal Diseases  
  7. Pubmed. 2011. Poor sleep quality, stress status, and sympathetic nervous system activation in nondipping hypertension 

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