Insomnia is truly an awful thing to experience, but the side effects of insomnia can be so much worse than not sleeping. If it gets bad enough, it becomes nearly impossible to live a normal life.
The physical pain and the mental torture can (and usually does) happen to anyone with insomnia, and it can get worse the longer you have it. The reason for this is when you sleep, your body is repairing itself for the next day. Of course, when you don’t sleep, it’s not doing that.
I’m not asking you to feel sorry for yourself. But I do want you to have some facts in your back pocket so when someone whines about having a single sleepless night like it’s the same thing, you can throw some facts in their face.
Without further ado:
The physical to the mental side effects of insomnia.
1.Your Quality of Life Tanks (I know, as if you needed this reminder of one of the main side effects of insomnia)
Life is full of highs and lows, but those lows feel a lot worse when you have chronic insomnia.
Perhaps you’re still in early adulthood and all sorts of challenges like finding a job and evolving relationships whacked you in the face. Maybe you’re managing fine, but sometimes it feels like the world just beats you down sometimes.
Or maybe you’ve been around the block more times than you can shake a stick at. Life experiences have started to show up as lines on your face and greys in your hair.
Perhaps you’ve achieved plenty of success in many of life’s avenues, but it still fell flat. Or perhaps your life unfolded in a way that you really didn’t expect or even want. Now it feels like you’re smashing puzzle pieces together in an effort to find a cohesive image of yourself.
There’s a near infinite number of walks of life, yet we all struggle at some point. Our time on earth is complex, beautiful, and at times painful. Even the most stable person can show cracks when they bend too far or too often. You add to that a severe bout with chronic insomnia and your overall quality of life just feels bleeker and infinitely more difficult to manage.
2. Cognitive Impairment
Your everyday functioning decreases substantially with insomnia. Learning can feel challenging and you’re not as creative as you used to be. Your emotions are all over the place and it’s harder to make decisions. You’re moody and the smallest inconvenience can throw you into a fit of rage.
This is because your central nervous system isn’t getting the repairs it needs to function properly. During sleep, your neurons take a break from their daily grind while also forming new pathways so you’re ready to face the next day refreshed. Sleep also signals to your body to produce proteins that repair cell damage. If your body didn’t get a chance to recover, it’ll start sending all types of wonky signals that can mess with your head.
3. Feeling Like You’re Going Insane
If sleep deprivation continues long enough, you can become paranoid and/or hallucinate. It’s incredibly creepy to know that our brains can produce this sort of side effect if we don’t sleep. When my insomnia was really bad, I swore that there was someone (or something) living in our apartment. I ‘saw’ figures run by in a flash of black, and was terrified. I also heard things that were never said.
4. Micro Sleep
Another side effect of insomnia is micro sleep. This is when you fall asleep for only a few seconds and don’t even realize it. Essentially you’re so sleep deprived that your brain is trying to get a few seconds of rest as a survival mechanism.
According to Vyazovskiy et al., 2011, part of your brain temporarily goes ‘offline’ while other neurons are still ‘awake’. You can’t control this, it just happens. This is obviously quite dangerous when you’re driving. Case in point, micro sleep has also been responsible for many aviation, boating, and even nuclear reactor accidents.
5. You Get Sick and Can’t Recover
When you’re sleeping, your immune system produces antibodies and cells that protect you from viruses and bacteria. When you don’t sleep, not only are you more likely to fall ill, it takes you longer to recover according to the Mayo Clinic.
Then there’s the human growth hormone. It is released during the rapid-eye movement (REM) stage of sleep and plays a vital role in maintaining healthy body tissue. Sleep deprivation stops the release of growth hormone so you can’t recover as well from exercise and even normal everyday activity.
6. Lack of Impulse Control
Sleep deprivation throws your cravings completely out of whack. You may suddenly feel the need to eat things you normally wouldn’t be drawn to. Or maybe you’ve always liked candy and fatty foods but now it seems impossible not to eat it. There are a few reasons for this:
- Cortisol: long term stress from not sleeping causes the release of the horme, which in turn makes you crave fatty and sugary foods.
- Leptin: this lil buddy tells your brain when you’ve had enough to eat. According to Taheri et al., 2004, sleep deprivation decreases leptin and therefore causes you to eat more.
- Ghrelin: The same study from Taheri et al., 2004 shows that sleep deprivation increases ghrelin which stimulates your appetite.
- Insulin: According to Mark Mahowald, MD, the body’s reaction to sleep loss can resemble insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes. Insulin’s job is to help the body use glucose for energy. So if you’re not sleeping, your body can’t regulate blood sugars as it should.
7. Chronic Illness
Since gaining weight is more likely if you’re an insomniac (see #6), you increase the risk of having problems with your cardiovascular system. In addition to this, your blood vessels and heart are repaired during sleep, so sleep deprivation can lead to a higher risk of health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
(The side effects of insomnia just keep getting better, huh?)
8. Your Memory Is Shot
Another one of insomnia’s side effects is memory loss. This type of memory loss isn’t just your run-of-the-mill walk into a room and forget what you’re doing. You can forget standard facts about people and subjects. You might even forget what you’re saying mid sentence, or even forget where you are.
Why is this? According to Dr. Howard LeWine from Harvard Medical School, it can be 2 things:
The first is the same stuff as what causes chronic illness – your cardiovascular system isn’t being repaired so your blood vessels constrict, which can cause stuff like heart disease and high blood pressure. This in turn decreases the amount of blood to your brain so it isn’t getting the oxygen needed to recall memories.
The second is that sleep deprivation causes the development of a protein called beta amyloid. Beta amyloid has been linked to a decrease in memory and dementia.
9. You’re More Accident Prone
Another study coming out of Harvard Medical School shows that sleeping 5 or less hours per night increases your chance of dying by 15%. This is mainly due to accidents on the road.
10. You’re Anti-Social
Insomnia can be a very lonely existence. Since insomnia causes you to be moodier and quicker to snap, you might not want to be around people. Or maybe they don’t want to be around you.
You can barely contain your own emotions let alone handle someone else’s. It also feels like climbing a mountain through a snowstorm to socialise. You just want to get some SLEEP…maintaining relationships is just too much right now.
11. Exploding Head Syndrome: one of the weirder side effects of insomnia
This side effect of insomnia is rare but worth mentioning. I’ve never experienced this myself, but what happens is: you hear a loud bang or crash right before you’re about to fall asleep. You might see a flash of light as well. Some people think they’re having a stroke when it happens. It does not cause physical pain but it obviously creates fear and makes it even hard to get to sleep.
12. You Can Get Superstitious
This is just anecdotal, however, I became very superstitious when I couldn’t sleep. Everything has to be in its proper place, the radio has to be on the same station that it was on when I last slept well, and I have to sleep in the same pyjamas that I last slept well in.
As far as I know, there isn’t scientific evidence correlating superstition to insomnia and it might be more related to anxiety and the need to control my external environment to feel ‘safe’. Just know that if you’re experiencing this too, you’re definitely not alone.
As you can see by the previous 12 side effects of insomnia, it can be a lot to deal with.
Your body isn’t functioning as it should and sometimes it’s a self perpetuating cycle. You feel like this will never end. In turn, you believe you can’t get better so you don’t.
It’s hard not to resign yourself to this difficult illness. You may have been having insomnia for weeks, months, years, or decades and it’s hard not to feel hopeless. Suicidal thoughts may have even crept in. If they have, you’re not alone. I’ve had these thoughts myself.
It’s an awful thing to feel like a shell of your former self. If you’re at this stage, please know two things:
First, there are resources for you to find that glimmer of hope to feel good one day. Because you can feel good one day. Here are just a few:
- Look up the suicide hotline in your country
- Try this online chat or this one
- Check out reddit’s depression and suicide watch threads for support and further resources.
Second, if you are experiencing any of these side effects from insomnia, know that you are not alone. And know that insomnia can be cured and these peripheral problems melt away with it. I know you don’t believe me, but insomnia can be cured.
Here’s my free 5 week chronic insomnia treatment program where I will teach you exactly how I got rid of chronic insomnia after suffering for three years.