What is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep is the natural state of rest characterized by reduced body movement and decreased awareness of surroundings. Sleep is the body’s natural way of re-energizing itself. Therefore, it follows that when a person gets enough sleep, they are normally more awake and active during the day. They function normally and have a good grip on their emotional responses. On the other hand, a person who has less sleep may not be in a sound state of mind to perform certain functions during the day. When less sleep becomes continuous for an individual, we say they are suffering from sleep deprivation.

The normal human being has certain sleep needs to function normally. Even though there is no fixed amount of time that must be religiously followed when it comes to sleep, it is important to note that there is a recommended amount of time for a person to sleep. The amount of sleep adults need is different from that of children, and one person may need more or less than another. However, for adults, the average amount of sleep needed to feel rested is 7 to 9 hours.

So, in simple terms, sleep deprivation is when sleep is disrupted and continues to be disrupted for prolonged periods of time. This may occur due to sleep restriction – simply not getting enough time in bed, asleep – or due to psychological issues.

When your body does not get the amount of sleep that it needs, you will begin to suffer from the ill effects of sleep deprivation.

What Causes Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation, also called Insomnia, is a condition in which a person has difficulty getting sufficient sleep. It can be caused by an overactive thyroid gland, diabetes, violent muscle twitching, or drinking caffeine-containing beverages before going to bed. However, a good number of insomnia cases are traced to a psychological problem. After anxiety-producing events or a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one or loss of a job, a person may experience sleep difficulties for a short period. Many persons recover their normal sleep rhythm eventually, but others become frustrated and depressed and this can lead to chronic insomnia.

Sleep deprivation occurs when someone does not get a healthy amount of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) 2015 recommendations for appropriate sleep durations for specific age groups are:

  • Newborns (0 to 3 months): 14 to 17 hours
  • Infants (4 to 11 months): 12 to 15 hours
  • Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 10 to 13 hours
  • School-age children (6 to 13 years): 9 11 hours
  • Teenagers (14 to 17 years): 8 to 10 hours
  • Adults (18 to 64 years): 7 to 9 hours
  • Older adults (over 65 years): 7 to 8 hours

Some people may consider sleep as wasted time and purposely deprive themselves of sleep to pursue other things such as entertainment, educational goals, or money-making pursuits. This intentional sleep deprivation is most likely to be seen in teenagers and young adults. Others may unintentionally not get enough sleep because of shift work, family obligations, or demanding jobs.

When you develop a sleep-wake pattern of going to bed late, or you frequently wake up at nights, or you wake up very early in the mornings, you are accumulating a sleep debt, which causes sleep deprivation.

Other causes of sleep deprivation may include medical problems such as hormone imbalances, depression, and other chronic illnesses.

What Are the Effects of Sleep Deprivation?

What can probably go wrong with missing a few days of sleep? Does it actually have any lasting negative impact on your brain, health, or general wellbeing?

Sleep deprivation can negatively affect a range of systems in your body and your wellbeing. It can have the following negative impact:

General Health Risk

Staying awake when your body tells you to sleep disorganizes your metabolism; this, in turn, increases your risk of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. If you make it a habit to radically cut your sleep short, or stay awake all night, your body’s hormones necessary to regulate growth and appetite will not be released. What happens instead is a formation of an overabundance of stress chemicals in your bodies, such as norepinephrine and cortisol. It has been indicated that shorter sleep durations may be a predictor of weight gain in adults and children. Each one-hour reduction in sleep time per day is associated with an increase of 0.35 kilograms (kg) in body weight. These changes result in an increased risk for hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, and stroke in the sleep-deprived individual.

When you see someone having a hard time controlling their impulses, they are probably deprived of sleep. They generally have a difficult time resisting high-calorie foods, more cravings for unhealthy meals, and difficulty controlling their impulses. Hormonal imbalances that result from sleep deprivation are responsible for this since those imbalances are linked to a high body mass index and obesity.

Immune System Deficiency

You know those great things your immune system does when you get a wound but don’t immediately get an infection, or you come near a sick person but don’t get ill yourself? Well, prolonged sleep deprivation can hamper your body’s natural defenses against infection. Even vaccines seem to be less effective for a sleep-deprived person.

Urine Overproduction

Your body slows down its normal urine production when you are asleep. So when you are sleep-deprived, that process is interrupted, leading to what researchers call “excess nocturnal urine production.” An adult who experiences sleep deprivation may need to use the bathroom several times during the night. This condition is called nocturia.

Risk of Heart Disease

Evidence abounds that link sleep deprivation to heart problems. Results from a research that kept people awake for 88 hours show that their blood pressure went up. Even participants who were allowed to sleep for 4 hours a night showed an elevated heart rate when compared with those who got 8 hours sleep. Concentrations of C-reactive protein, a marker of heart disease risk, also increased in people who are fully or partially deprived of sleep.

Magnifies Alcohol Effect

You probably and have heard people say, don’t drink and drive. Like driving drunk, driving when you are drowsy can lead to car accidents. Drowsy driving is often compared to drunk driving: You really shouldn’t do either, and doing both at the same time is very dangerous! Sleep deprivation magnifies the effect of alcohol on the body. A fatigued person who drinks will be more impaired than a well-rested person.

Low Sex Drive

When you sleep well at night, your testosterone level increases or is replenished. Testosterone is a vital component required for sexual drive or libido in both men and women. Sleep deprivation is associated with reduced libido and sexual dysfunction. People with sleep apnea are, particularly at risk.

What does Sleep Deprivation to Your Brain?

The main effect of sleep deprivation is a disruption of short-term memory. Sleep is necessary to prepare the brain for learning. When the brain is not well rested through sleep, it is difficult to concentrate and form new memories. For a long time, sleepiness has been a problem for many students. It has been observed that delaying school start times for about an hour can significantly increase test scores for school children and it may have an even bigger effect on teenagers who tend to be “night owls.” Also, adults who are sleep-deprived, tend to suffer the effect of short-term memory losses. Several studies have found that sleep-deprived adults may find it tricky to remember words they have learned and have a more difficult time improving newly learned skills.

Emotional Effect

Sleep deprivation weakens the ability of the part of the brain that handles reasoning to control the emotional part. This leads to the abnormal processing of emotions. People who are sleep-deprived are twice as likely to develop depression, and research suggests that treating sleep problems may help treat depressive symptoms. A study reported higher marital happiness among women with more peaceful sleep, although it is hard to say whether happy people sleep better or good sleep makes people happier. Most likely, it is some combination of the two.

Slower Reactions

When you don’t get enough sleep, your reaction time is greatly reduced, your decision-making process is slowed down, and you become generally clumsy. When you are sleepy, you are not at the top of your game. One study found that one sleepless night contributed to a 20-32% increase in the number of errors made by surgeons. Athletes playing sports that require precision such as shooting, sailing, or cycling, also make more mistakes when they have been awake for extended periods.

Can Sleep Deprivation Kill You?

There are several ways to answer this question. One way is to say, sleep deprivation can lead to your eventual death. Another way to put it is, not having enough sleep may not kill you instantly, but it will sooner or later when it becomes a chronic issue. And yet, another way to put it is to simply say, yes it can cause instant death. Let’s briefly discuss this.

Total Sleep Deprivation

In rare circumstances, chronic sleep deprivation may actually lead to your death. This may occur in extremely uncommon disorders such as fatal familial insomnia. In this genetic disorder, sleep becomes greatly fragmented and disrupted to the point that the affected person is unable to sleep at all. Ultimately, this condition leads to death.

The Danger of Traffic Accidents

Your body is made up of intelligent cells which must sleep in other to function properly. Your body automatically attempts to balance its sleep needs after about 16 straight hours of staying awake. If after such long hours, you do not get enough sleep; your brain begins to shut down on its own to enable it to get some short sleep. This process is automatic through short sleep attacks called microsleeps.

Microsleep is an uncontrollable brain response that renders a person unable to process environmental stimulation and sensory information for a brief amount of time. When you experience microsleep, your eyes often remain open, but they are essentially “zoned out.” These attacks are usually sudden, so the consequences for a sleep-deprived person operating heavy machinery or driving can be catastrophic to both the individual as well as innocent bystanders.

It is extremely difficult for you to remain awake for 48 hours straight because microsleeps are inbuilt sleep mechanism that will continue to occur no matter your attempt to stay awake. This is what causes people to fall asleep behind the wheel, or make them inattentive and lose concentration while driving. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation may lead to a level of impairment equivalent to being legally drunk.

The Drowsy Driving Problem

This is a major problem in the United States that has caused fatal accidents on the highway. Drowsy driving is the combination of sleepiness and driving, and it usually takes place when the driver has not slept for long hours or due to untreated sleep disorders.

Since no one can really say when sleep comes and take control of the body, falling asleep while driving is extremely dangerous, and feeling sleepy can also put you in danger by affecting the driver to make good decisions on the road, and also lose concentration on the road.

According to research, it was estimated that over 70 million American suffers from sleep disorders. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave an estimate of the numbers of people involved in drowsy driving in 2013-14.

  • 72,000 number of crashes
  • 44,000 number of injuries
  • 800 deaths

The numbers have been growing ever since, although the NHTSA has put up measures to curtail the situation.

The people that are more likely to get involved in driving drowsy are drivers that do not get enough sleep.

How to Sleep Better?

“Take some sleeping pills.” That seems to be the go-to advice people throw around when talking to a sleep-deprived person. But before you “take some sleeping pills,” consider these suggestions.

There are some simple changes in behavior that may be helpful. In general, sleeping pills and alcohol use should be avoided. These are often ineffective, and as a result, doses may escalate to get even a modest effect. This can increase the risks of overdose and potentially death.

Sometimes, due to physical or psychological difficulties, a person cannot get to sleep. In such cases, treatment becomes unavoidable. A therapist or sleep specialist will be able to offer guidance and coping techniques for reaching a restful state and sleeping.

Treatment for sleep deprivation is generally classified into: behavioral and cognitive measures, and medications.

Behavioral and Cognitive Treatments

There are effective methods to enhance sleep which that does not require medication. These include:

Relaxation techniques: Progressive muscle relaxation involving tensing and un-tensing different muscles in the body to help calm the body. Meditation techniques, mindfulness training, breathing and guided imagination can also help in this area. Audio recordings are available that can help a person fall asleep at night.

Stimulation control: This controls pre-bedtime activities and surroundings to a moderate sleeping pattern. An example will be lying in bed only you feel sleepy. This controls the association between being in bed and feeling ready to sleep.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is designed to help sleep-deprived people understand and change the thought patterns behind certain behaviors. It can challenge beliefs that may not be healthy and promote rational positive thought. CBT can help a person to develop a healthier sleeping pattern.

Medications: In the event where non-medicinal treatment fails, there are drugs that can help induce sleep. However, great care should be exercised to that you don’t for a dependency on sleeping medications. Some sleep-inducing medications are available over-the-counter, while others are only available with a valid prescription. There is a wide range of available options, including benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, and melatonin receptor antagonists.


Sleep deprivation occurs when an individual gets less sleep than they need to feel awake and alert. Sleep is important for overall health, and inadequate sleep is associated with numerous health problems.

Apart from the risk of death in extreme sleep deprivation, there are clearly numerous reasons why we should get enough sleep. We endanger our health when we fail to do so. Ensure you get ample sleep and you can optimize your wellbeing and prevent an untimely death.

Sources Of Statistics Of People Involved In Drowsy Driving





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