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When you wake up after a good night’s sleep, you may feel like you can take on the world.

But trying to open your eyes after tossing and turning all night or waking up every hour on the hour may feel like the most you can accomplish all day.

Sleep deprivation can do more than simply make you sluggish the next day. If it happens frequently, it can take a toll on your mind and your body, and for some it can be a serious concern.

What causes sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation comes for most of us at one time or another. It could be a new baby keeping parents up each night, a work project that has you burning the midnight oil, or the stresses of the day preventing you from falling asleep.

Whatever form it takes, sleep deprivation is characterized by a consistent lack of sleep, which means getting fewer than seven hours of shut eye a night on a regular basis.

Some people who feel the effects of sleep deprivation could suffer from an undiagnosed sleep disorder. But for many of us, we don’t get enough rest because we don’t prioritize it. And we don’t prioritize it because we don’t understand how important it is to our health.

Why do we need sleep?

The bottom line is that our bodies need a certain amount of sleep to function at their best. While we are sleeping, our bodies are performing all kinds of repair and maintenance on our internal organs and our muscles.

Sleep also plays a critical role in maintaining the memory center in our brains, helping us retain what we’ve learned and seen so we can access that information again. Sleep helps restore the chemical balance in our bodies, too.

Sleep deprivation symptoms

When we don’t get the sleep we need, it shows. Signs of sleep deprivation include irritability, feeling tired in the daytime, forgetfulness, clumsiness and a lower sex drive.

Could sleep deprivation actually make you sick? The short answer is yes. Studies have shown that when you don’t get enough rest, your body is more susceptible to any viruses you might be exposed to, making it harder to fight off everything from the common cold to infections.

Sleep deprivation and weight gain

Running short on sleep could be a precursor to packing on the pounds. The amount of sleep you get affects your body’s levels of ghrelin, an appetite stimulant, and leptin, which sends your brain the signal that you’ve had enough to eat.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body makes less leptin and ramps up production of ghrelin. Adding to this dilemma is sleep deprivation can leave you feeling sluggish and too tired to exercise. If you get locked into a pattern of reduced physical activity and an increasing appetite, weight gain is likely to follow.

Lack of sleep can muddle the mind

Getting a good night’s sleep is key for optimal brain function. Think of it like a deep cleaning for your mind, where all the clutter is tidied up, leaving you fresh and ready for a new day.

When we sleep, pathways are forged between neurons in our brain, allowing us to retain new information and keeping us mentally sharp. But a sleep-deprived brain can’t do this.

When our brain is tired, things get foggy. We might not be able to concentrate on our work or follow along with conversations. This makes it difficult to complete even our regular tasks let alone focus enough to learn new things.

How to fall asleep easier

The best time to think about sleeping better is long before you crawl under the covers, because actions you take during the day impact how well you sleep at night.

If you’re trying to keep sleep deprivation at bay, make sure you are paying attention to your schedule. Waking up and going to bed on a consistent schedule each day will help. That includes the weekends, despite the overpowering temptation to sleep in.

Screen time can also take a toll on your ability to get to sleep. Try limiting your exposure to electronics and blue light for at least a half an hour before you go to bed. (Most screens have a nighttime mode to help with this.)

Learn more about sleep

Read 7 Tips for getting a better night’s sleep for more advice, including the consideration of a supplement with natural ingredients like Nutrilite™ Sleep Health. The proprietary blend of valerian, hops and lemon balm is designed to help you relax so you can fall asleep†.

Getting enough sleep each night is so vitally important to our mental and physical health that we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to safeguard our rest. Sleep is something we spend a third of our lives doing, and we owe it to ourselves to do it well.