What are the effects of not enough sleep?

June 22, 2013

Everybody knows not getting enough sleep is bad, but I sometimes wonder if people understand the serious side effects that can happen to those of us who lose sleep on a consistent basis. Since the main goal of working out is to be healthy and fit, it’s a good idea to review a few of the more serious things caused by lack of shut-eye.

Greater chance of injury

Failure to get enough sleep can affect your ability to think clearly and cloud your judgment. It can also slow neurological function and reaction time, making it possible to sustain serious injuries while hoisting iron weights and dumbbells over your body.

All it takes is one misstep in the weight room to cause serious injury or even death, and if you are tired and not firing on all cylinders, getting hurt is a lot more likely.

Weakened immune system

Lack of sleep decreases the production of important proteins that help fight infections, leaving you more vulnerable to colds and viruses that may be looking for a host. It also decreases the production of antibodies and cells that help keep the body healthy and disease free.

In addition, losing sleep for prolonged periods can increase certain stress hormones that can elevate blood pressure and cause other health issues. The bottom line - if you are not rested, you’re more likely to get sick and miss workouts.

Increased appetite

A recent study concluded that failure to get enough sleep causes the body to release a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is an appetite-stimulating hormone that tells the body you need food and makes you feel hungry even when you’re not. To make matters worse, lack of sleep causes the body to crave simple sugars such as cakes, candy and ice cream, which can have a devastating effect on your waistline. However, when you get enough sleep the body releases another hormone called leptin that makes you feel full and tells the body to stop eating. When you feel full, the body is not in crisis mode, and you have the ability to be more selective with your food choices.

High blood pressure

Research suggests that getting less than six hours of sleep a night can increase blood pressure, putting you at risk for a number of cardiovascular issues such as heart attack and stroke. This is because during sleep, the heart gets a chance to rest and slow down, but if you constantly get less than the required amount, your heart is forced to pump at full capacity all the time and never gets a chance to rest and recover.

Getting eight to nine hours of sleep at night will give you the rest needed to prevent this from happening.

Increased insulin resistance

Staying awake for long periods of time can make it very difficult for the body to process sugar and can be a major contributing factor of weight gain, because getting less than six hours a day can create a perfect storm of hormones that promote hunger and lack of judgment. As you pack on the pounds and excess body fat, you become at risk for a number of different diseases and medical conditions including type II diabetes and obesity.

So if you’re truly concerned with being healthy and getting in shape, be sure to get eight to nine hours of sleep each night for best results.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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