Effects Of Sleep Deprivation: Is It Really That Bad?


Did you know that the lack of sleep kills faster than the lack of food?

Although this experiment was conducted on rats, most of the observed effects of sleep deprivation still hold for humans.

Those poor rats died within ten days of sleep deprivation unlike the two weeks that food starvation would take.

The only reason why there are no public records of anyone who had died from sleep deprivation is that no policy would allow for such fatal experiment on humans.

However, studies have shown that many other dangers of sleeplessness can also be as critical as death to humans.

What is sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation can also mean sleeplessness or “not getting enough sleep.”

This happens when your body is denied the required quantity and quality of sleep that it needs to feel rested, awake, alert, and refreshed during the day.

Insomnia and sleep apnea are the popular sleep disorders that can deny you of good sleep. Stress, anxiety, and depression are some other causes of sleep deprivation.

It can also be your personal decision to stay up all night preparing for an exam or interview or maybe to catch up on an old movie series.

Either way, your body will show one or all of the following signs of sleep deprivation the next day.

What are the symptoms of sleep deprivation?

  • Do you stay up too late at night and wake up too early the next morning?
  • Do you yawn frequently and feel sleepy during the day?
  • Do you micro-sleep (nod to nothing) during the day?
  • Do you have dark circles around your eyes?
  • Are your eyelids sagging to form eye bags?
  • Do you feel unrefreshed when you wake up the next morning?

If your answer to the questions above is Yes, then you most likely haven’t gotten as much sleep as you are supposed to.

How much sleep does your body need?

Sleep deprivation is when you get less sleep than is required for your wellbeing.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended duration of sleep for every 24 hours depends on the individual’s age.

65 years and above (older adults) 5 – 9 hours
26 to 64 years old (adults) 6 – 10 hours
18 to 25 years old (young adults) 6 – 11 hours
14 to 17 years old (teenagers) 7 – 11 hours
6 to 13 years old (school age) 7 – 12 hours
3 to 5 years old (preschoolers) 8 – 12 hours
1 to 2 year(s) old (toddlers) 9 – 16 hours
4 to 11 months (infants) 10 – 18 hours
0 to 3 month(s) (newborns) 11 – 19 hours

The above should serve for an honest self-assessment.

So, have you been sleeping for the number of hours recommended for your age group per day/night?

If not, then knowing the cause(s) of your sleeplessness can help you choose your method(s) for sleeping better.

What are the dangers of sleep deprivation?

How long can you go without sleep for £100,000? *smirks*

Hold that thought.

According to BBC News Online, a reality TV show once put up that amount to any contestant who would go the longest without sleep.

One of the contestants, on leaving the contest after one week, said: “It was like torture being sleep deprived.”

And if you think one week was too small, how about 168 hours or 10,080 minutes or 604,800 seconds of no sleep?

The effects of sleep deprivation are similar to torture so much that the Amnesty International condemns using it for interrogation, even on captured terrorists!

1. You tend to sleep a lot during the day

Remember suddenly waking up at the jerk of your head?

Insufficient sleep at night can make you micro-sleep during the day.

Every hour of sleep you miss is added to your sleep debt. When in excess, your sleep debt can cause you to microsleep, which makes you of little or no use to yourself and others for that day.

2. You get easily annoyed

The absence of that refreshing satisfaction from a quality sleep can cost you your good mood.

You find yourself overreacting to even the slightest of provocations throughout that day.

Talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed.

3. You find it hard to concentrate or pay attention

That feeling of drowsiness and your constant battle to nod it off will leave you with insufficient consciousness for realities.

Your lack of alertness from a poor quantity or quality of sleep can reduce your attentiveness.

In children, this particular effect of sleep deprivation can be mistaken for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

This is because sleep-deprived children do not doze off during the day like adults; rather, they become hyperactive, irritable with a much-reduced attention span.

4. Learning becomes even more difficult

Although, you may hear people talk about something, what they are saying would be more like a Kuvukian movie without subtitles.

Effects of sleep deprivation slow down your thinking process, and this can reduce your ability to assimilate even the simplest of concepts.

Also, why else are people often told to “sleep on it” whenever they find it hard to make a decision or get creative with an idea?

This is because such mental improvement can, indeed, arise from a good night’s rest.

5. You struggle with memory loss or forgetfulness

Inability to remember recent past events or things is one of the effects of sleep deprivation.

When Randy Gardner was given a subtraction task on the 11th day of his no-sleep record, he stopped halfway, and immediately could no longer recall ever doing such calculation.

When you sleep, no conscious activity distracts your brain. So, it gets that free period to sort out which data to store and which to discard.

As your brain sorts itself out, random scenes from the days’ feed are replayed which you may see as dreams. And as a result, memory banks are created and whatever you’ve learnt are made more permanent.

When you are sleep-deprived, there is little or no break for your brain to do its sorting and if nothing is saved, what then is there to remember?

6. Your skin begins to age too soon

Another effect of sleep deprivation is the production of too much cortisol, a stress hormone.

In excess amount, this cortisol attacks your collagens, which are the elastic fibres that hold your skin cells together.

Once these fibres are weakened or broken, your skin goes from tight and smooth to loose and rough with stretch marks and wrinkles.

7. Growth is impaired

Among the hormones secreted while we sleep, are growth hormones.

Children require their recommended dose of good sleep due to their rapid growth process. Lack of sleep can tamper with their growth and also delay the repair of worn-out tissues, especially in the healing of injuries.

8. You sleep on the job

Most factories are filled with heavy machinery that requires both manual operation and supervision.

Sleep deprivation can impair your judgment and slow your reflexes, which are the major causes of the accident with machines.

Optalert listed the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, Exxon Valdez oil spill, and NASA’s space shuttle explosion as few of the historical disasters in which sleepy workers were a factor.

9. You become a road hazard

National Sleep Foundation reported that when people who lacked sleep were tested on a driving simulator, they performed worse than drunk drivers.

Apart from dosing off on the wheel, their slow reaction to road signs, traffic lights, sharp turns, speed bumps, etc. contributes to this high risk of road accidents.

Another report stated that the effects of sleep deprivation for 24 hours are the same as having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.10% which is higher than the legal BAC limit of 0.08% for driving in the U.S.

10. You increase your risk of obesity

Ever stayed up all night and noticed that endless hunger which had you heading to the fridge or kitchen almost throughout that night?


Lack of sleep can affect your body weight by increasing the secretion of ghrelin, which is a hunger hormone that causes you to Eat! Eat! And Eat!

Sleep deprivation does not only make you over-eat but also increases your hunger for foods high in fat and sugar.

Eating these foods, especially with little or no physical activities to use up these calories, can accumulate to unhealthy body weight.

However, when you sleep, your body produces enough leptin, a hormone which acts to reduce excessive appetite.

11. You increase your risk of developing Type-2 diabetes

The American Medical Association explained that one of the effects of sleep deprivation is an increase in blood sugar.

Insulin, a hormone responsible for the regulation of blood sugar level, is mostly produced while you sleep.

Type 2 diabetes is when the amount of insulin produced by your body is no longer enough to regulate your blood sugar.

Staying up at night will reduce not only your insulin production but also increase your blood sugar level, and this combination equals diabetes, over time.

12. You risk high blood pressure and other heart-related problems

At a state of rest, there is no activity strenuous enough to cause your heart to pump blood with extra force. So, it maintains a healthy beat while recovering from that day’s pressure.

Sleep deprivation pressures your heart even further as every conscious thought and emotions throughout that night will keep taking their toll on your blood pressure.

Heart-related problems arise when your hardworking heart doesn’t get to chill out as much as it should, and what better time than while you sleep?

13. You begin to hallucinate


John Schlapobersky, a victim of sleep deprivation, narrated that his hallucination started after two nights of sleeplessness and by the week’s end, a window would become a view of the sea to him.

Another personal experience was of Dr. Steven Feinsilver who still swears that a pumpkin had talked to him in the ICU after some nights of sleeplessness.

14. Your immune system is weakened

Proper sleep increases the production of cytokines, which are hormones that aid the white blood cells in their fight against infections.

Sleep deprivation increases your risk of falling sick and also prolongs your recovery from even the slightest of illnesses.

Research also has it that individuals with good sleep records react better to vaccines by producing more antibodies than individuals with sleep deprivation.

15. You become depressed

As much as depression can cause sleeplessness, sleeplessness can also cause depression.

According to a professor of psychology, it starts from the face.

When you’re sleep-deprived, it is impossible for you to wear a happy face or even notice one. The face is either neutral or negative to you, and that begins your lack of positivity.

Also, a night of little or no sleep automatically sets your next day to the highest difficulty level. Everything becomes too hard or demanding, and that feeling can make life unbearable for you.

An example is the post-partum blues experienced by mothers of newborns due to their lack of sleep from the constant demand of newborns to be breastfed.


There are no substitutes for sleep. It is the same way you need to eat, drink, pee, and blink with no alternative.

However, our 24/7 society of today tends to view sleep as a thief of productive hours, and luxury for lazy people alone.

Speaking of which

Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men, told Seattle Times in an exclusive interview that he likes to get 7 hours of sleep.

If I have to be creative, I’m not much good without seven hours.


In other words, sleeping can NOT be a sign of laziness.

Oversleeping? Maybe. *shrugs*

READ ALSO: Causes Of Sleeplessness

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[mks_toggle title=References state=”open”] 1. Association of sleep time with diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose tolerance. (Apr. 2005). www.jamanetwork.com
2. Bill Gates seems like a pretty regular guy – for a billionaire. (Jul. 1990). www.community.seattletimes.nwsource.com
3. How fatigue played a role in some of the world’s biggest disasters. (Oct. 2016). www.optalert.com
4. Microsleep. (Apr. 2017). www.sleepdex.org
5. Randy Gardner (record holder).www.en.wikipedia.org
6. Sleep deprivation. (Jun. 2014). www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
7. Sleep deprivation in the rat by the disk-over-water method. (Apr. 2000). www.sciencedirect.com
8. Sleep deprivation is torture: Amnesty. (Oct. 2006). www.smh.com.au
9. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin and increased body mass index. (Dec. 2004). www.journals.plos.org
10. The real victims of sleep deprivation. (2004). www.news.bbc.co.uk
11. The spooky effects of sleep deprivation. (2015). www.livescience.com
12. www.nationalsleepfoundation.org[/mks_toggle]


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