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How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Your Cells?

How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Your Cells?

Your body wants to follow an evolutionary blueprint. Instinct says, “Rise with the sun. Sleep when it sets.” 

A circadian rhythm refers to an internal clock that influences the pacing and patterns of biological systems. Organs lull or stimulate function in response to environmental changes. 

This phenomenon may be most noticeable as a “sleep-wake” pattern. However, the average work schedule does not always allow your body to adhere to its circadian rhythms. 

Sleep deprivation is an inevitable cellular stressor. When your cells are stressed by an exhausted body, they are more susceptible to damage.

Even occasional sleep deprivation can lead to health complications down the road.


Sleep deprivation contributes to major health conditions.

Sleep is an essential component of cellular function and long-term health. Humans need rest and your system struggles to repair in moments of high activity. 

A preclinical study from the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that immune cells called microglia “repair and rewire” the brain during sleep. 

Microglia fight infection and repair cellular damage to the brain. They also influence neuroplasticity, or the way the brain absorbs and stores information. 

Poor sleep denies cells the opportunity to heal the body. This may be why chronic insomniacs are more susceptible to strokes. 

In 2019 the American Academy of Neurology published a ten-year clinical study conducted on a subject base of 487,200. Participants were asked if they experienced symptoms of insomnia at least three nights per week. Nearly one quarter reported sleep issues. 

Over the course of the trial, there were “130,032 cases of stroke, heart attack, and other similar diseases.” The study found that insomniacs were 18% more likely to experience cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease. 


Better sleep is good for your brain.

Brain cells ultimately dictate your every move. The brain needs sleep for short-term functioning and long-term health. The relationship between cell damage and sleep deprivation is particularly evident in its impact on cognition.

Multiple clinical studies demonstrate that extreme cases of sleep deprivation can result in mania and psychosis. A trial published in Frontiers in Psychiatry suggests auditory and visual hallucinations often occur after three or four days without sleep.

Cellular activity and circadian rhythms are inextricably linked. Preclinical research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine shows that brain-cell housekeeping occurs during sleep and “may also be involved in regulating” circadian rhythms.


Mitochondrial dysfunction and sleep.

But what’s actually happening in the cell? One of the impacted functions occurs within our mitochondria. 

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. They supply cells with energy, and that energy powers the roles they play in your body. 

Within the mitochondria, our energy production relies on a small coenzyme called NAD+. NAD+ is an essential resource your mitochondria need to activate their “power factories”. They provide the “fuel” that ignites the turbines within the mitochondria.

However, when your body’s cells are under stress, they may focus their energy on combating the stressor. This reduces your available supply of NAD+.

Example: You stay up all night binging your favorite show. The next day, cells work overtime to carry you through the day, depleting their supply of NAD+. 

Sleep deprivation is a major stressor that wreaks havoc on cells and may even cause mitochondrial dysfunction. Preclinical research published in the journal Cellular Metabolism suggests that mitochondrial function falters when one’s circadian clock is compromised. 

Impaired mitochondria struggle to fuse and duplicate, thus impacting the maintenance of various organ systems. Without the cellular energy mitochondria provide, organs struggle to perform their most basic functions. 


Prioritize sleep for your cells.

Cellular health can be challenging to observe, yet it has an undeniable influence on your overall health. Cells rely on a consistent circadian rhythm to prevent illness and good mitochondrial function is a vital component of that process. 

Stressors are an inevitable part of modern life. Understanding your cellular needs is the first step in improving your cellular health. And good sleep reinforces your cells’ ability to maintain and protect your most vital organs.

Put devices down an hour before bed. Following a consistent sleep schedule safeguards your health in the long-term and at the cellular level.