Alaska Sleep Education Center

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation: How Losing Sleep Impacts Your Health

Posted by Mauricio Reinoso, MD on Feb 28, 2019 9:00:00 AM


We all crave a full night's sleep and recognize it's amazing benefits to our body and mind. Unfortunately for many people, the need for a good night's sleep often gets left unsatisfied. Whether it's due to work, school, or activities demands; gets sacrificed for social, personal, or entertainment reasons; or is a side effect of a medical condition or sleep disorder, a staggering number of people are still getting less sleep than their body and mind need to function adequately.

If good rest is necessary to function sufficiently during the day, but a large percentage of people aren't getting enough sleep, then what happens when sleep gets deprived for too long? What are the adverse effects of sleep deprivation?

What is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation occurs when a person fails to get enough sleep at night. How much sleep a person needs varies among individuals, but a fair benchmark puts it between 7-9 hours per night for adults. Unfortunately, a staggering 1/3 of people in the U.S. report getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep a night.

 Causes of sleep deprivation

While there are many reasons a person may be missing out on sleep, there are a few very common reasons:

  •  Work, school, and other obligations. There are a lot of societal demands for our time these days that often conflict with the number of hours in a day. Many people are forced to work, study, or perform other tasks to meet deadlines or fulfill other commitments. Approximately 20% of the U.S. population engages in "shift work" which can lead to shift work sleep disorder, a condition in which a person's built-in circadian rhythm doesn't match that of their external obligations causing them to lose sleep.

  • Voluntary reasons. Many people, especially younger adults, willingly sacrifice sleep to pursue other interests and activities. Staying up late to watch television shows and play video games, going out on weekends to clubs, concerts, and bars, or simply staying up late to socialize or pursue other interests. Most have the mindset that they can catch up on sleep during the weekend but often find themselves in the same pattern of sleep deprivation during the regular week.

  • Medical reasons. A number of people lose sleep regularly due to medical conditions or sleep disorders. Some of the most common sleep disorders that lead to sleep deprivation are obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome (RLS), circadian rhythm sleep disorders, periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).
  • elderly_snoring_couple250Bed partner problems. One of the lesser discussed causes of sleep deprivation is those caused by a bed partner who suffers from a sleep disorder. Many times it's not just the sufferer themselves who lose sleep due to their disorder but their partners suffer from sleep loss as well. Symptoms of sleep apnea such as loud, chronic snoring or the noise of one grinding their teeth from bruxism can keep a partner awake, as well as constant movement from the partner suffering from RLS or PLMD. Even the worry over a partner suffering from a form of parasomnia can keep them from getting ample sleep themselves.

What are the effects of sleep deprivation?

The effects of sleep deprivation are many and vary in degrees of severity. Side effects of sleep deprivation can include symptoms that manifest themselves in just a short time of losing quality sleep (as little as one day) or can accumulate over a long period of chronic sleep loss in the form of serious medical conditions.
  • Mood. Most people recognize that even one day of not getting enough sleep can impact their mood. Sleep deprivation often leads to:

    • Irritability

    • Anxiety

    • Forgetfulness

    • Distractibility

    • Lack of motivation

    • Symptoms of depression

    • Chronic stress
  • Performance.
    • Man extremely tired in the middle of the day.Excessive daytime sleepiness

    • Lack of overall energy
    • Poor decision-making abilities

    • Decreased sex drive

    • Lowered alertness and reaction timing

    • Easily distracted

    • More likely to make errors and mistakes

    • Short-term and long-term memory problems

    • Cognitive impairment

One of the most consequential problems associated with the effects of sleep deprivation on performance is the increased likelihood of having accidents at work or while driving. According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 2.5% of fatal crashes and 2% of injury crashes involve drowsy driving. Although it is believed the estimates may be a bit conservative and that up to 5-6 thousand fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy driving.

  • health_problems_sign-250Health problems. Long-term sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of health issues including:
    • Heart disease

    • Heart attack

    • High blood pressure

    • Irregular heartbeat/arrhythmia 

    • Increased risk of stroke

    • Diabetes

    • Obesity/weight gain

How to treat sleep deprivation

 Oftentimes sleep deprivation can be treated with good sleep hygiene practices. These practices include personal habits such as: sticking to a bedtime routine, getting regular exercise, making healthy eating choices, avoiding alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime, getting ample exposure to sunlight during the day, and practicing relaxation techniques before bedtime.

Sleep hygiene also includes modifying one's sleep environment to optimize quality sleep such as ditching electronics before bedtime, keeping the room dark and quiet, keeping the room cool, and making sure the bed is as comfortable as possible.

If sleep deprivation may be caused by a sleep disorder it may be time to schedule a consultation with a sleep clinic for a sleep study. Sleep studies can help get to the root of sleep problems and offer a variety of therapy treatments to help sufferers get the sleep they need.

If you live in Alaska and are experiencing chronic sleep deprivation that you believe is due to a sleep disorder, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic by clicking the link below to schedule a free consultation.

Chronic Drowsiness


Topics: tired, sleep problems

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