Snooze It or Lose It? 5 Serious Reasons Not to Skip Sleep

The immediate benefits of a good night's rest are obvious: Your energy levels are higher, productivity is easier, and the sun seems to shine just a bit brighter.  

By contrast, everything seems harder after too-little sleep: Your energy levels plummet, small tasks appear monumental, and suddenly, the weather feels so gloomy.

And if you keep having bad sleep? That's when things get really difficult. Experts agree that it’s possible to bounce back after an occasional sleepless night or two. But routinely missing out on the recommended seven to eight hours can have serious and negative impacts on your brain and overall health.

If you're perpetually skipping on snoozing, here are five risks to your mental and physical health to be aware of:

1. Your immune system takes a hit

Ever pulled an all-nighter and caught a cold a few days later? It could be more than a coincidence. Without enough sleep, the body’s ability to fight back the germs and viruses of everyday life becomes inhibited. And that opens the door to some fairly miserable symptoms.

For example:

And it goes both ways, too: Getting plenty of sleep can boost your immune system.

In other words, if you've been getting sick more than usual, lack of sleep could be a major culprit.

Related: Can't Sleep? 14 Things To Do for Better Sleep

2. Your risk for developing certain types of cancer may go up

While lack of sleep itself is not considered a cause for developing cancer, studies have found a correlation between irregular sleep patterns and the risk of developing certain kinds of cancer. For example:

Again, it’s important to note that sleep habits aren’t directly causative for cancer. But letting your primary care doctor know about your work and/or sleep schedule during your regularly-scheduled check-ups can be a helpful precautionary measure.

3. Your sex drive goes down

While there's more to romance than eight hours of sleep, research does show that less sleep might lead to a lower sex drive. And it's true for both men and women. For example:  

Think of it this way: When you barely have the energy by the end of the day to brush your teeth, how likely are you to engage in – let alone initiate – sex?

4. Your risk for having a stroke increases

Getting the right amount of sleep may keep your risk of having a stroke at bay. For example:

It's important to note here that routinely getting too much sleep is also correlated with a higher chance of stroke. That’s because consistently snoozing for over eight hours is associated with a sedentary lifestyle, which is a contributing factor to stroke, too.

5. You’re more likely to have negative moods

You may well know this one first hand: After a restless night, are you more likely to snap at your partner over little things that you might otherwise let slide? Or panic over seemingly small incidents, like a cryptic text from a friend?

That’s because when we don’t sleep enough, our emotions take a hit. Studies show a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and an increase in negative moods, such as anger.

For example:

And this translates onto the larger scale as well: Studies estimate that people with insomnia are four times as likely to develop depression as those without insomnia. [11]

Having trouble sleeping? Consider seeing a sleep disorder specialist

If you're having recurring issues with your sleep, consider working with a therapist who specializes in sleep hygiene or sleep disorders. The "gold standard" for sleep disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I for short). CBT-I is shown to improve sleep and daytime functioning by 70-80%, and also helps improves mood and reduce co-morbid concerns like depression.

Getting one-on-one advice from an expert can help you understand the root of your personal sleep issues, set you up to snooze through that seven- to eight-hour sweet spot, and enable you to bounce back to your healthiest self.