The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Mind, Body, and Emotions

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

What are the effects of sleep deprivation?

As a society, we have been transformed over the course of this century. Our knowledge and technology have expanded exponentially, but along with these advances has come sleep deprivation like we have never known before in our history.

We think nothing of ignoring the clock, often pushing our bodies and minds to work or play far beyond the sunrise to sunset cycle. Our lives appear to demand something close to perpetual motion, or at least motion minimally tempered by rest.

This failure to acknowledge the amount of sleep we need has given rise to several problems with our health.

"In 1910 (before the advent of the lightbulb), the average person slept 9 hours per night. After the invention of the lightbulb, the average changed to 7 hours per night."

Mental and Behavioral Effects of Sleep Deprivation

There are several effects of sleep loss on the human mind, such as:

  • Increased irritability and moodiness;
  • Decreased ambition, productivity, and performance;
  • Reduced levels of alertness, impaired vigilance, and decreased level of creative thinking;
  • Impaired levels of concentration;
  • Higher incidence of migraine headaches;
  • Sleep Deprivation Psychosis - in chronic cases (usually after several nights without sleep), you can develop an altered state of mind where you think things are real when they aren't.
  • Slows human reaction time, making everyday tasks dangerous
  • Impaired performance on cognitive tasks involving memory, learning, logical reasoning, arithmetic calculations, pattern recognition, complex verbal processing, and decision making;
  • Increased depression and anxiety disorders.

Physical Effects of Sleep Deprivation

The consequences of lack of sleep stretch far beyond just feeling tired. Not only does it effect your mind and emotions, but sleep deprivation effects body. Here are some examples of how sleep deprivation effects you physically:

  • Increased gastrointestinal disorders, abnormal digestion;
  • Increased cardiovascular disorders;
  • Slow physical reflexes;
  • Hand tremors;
  • Droopy eyelids and difficulty focusing the eyes;
  • Heightened sensitivity to pain;
  • Increased Morbidity and Mortality - Sleep studies have found that hibitual short sleepers are at risk of increased morbidity and mortality. According to these studies, individuals who report sleeping seven to eight hours or less a night experienced poorer health than those sleeping seven to eight hours a night. One nine-year study found that individuals sleeping fewer than six hours each night had a 70 percent higher mortality rate in comparison to those who slept seven or eight hours a night. This association remains significant even after controlling for age, gender, race, physical health, smoking history, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption, and social suuport.

Sleep Deprivation and Obesity

Studies suggest a strong link between sleep deprivation and obesity. Want to shed a fed pounds? Just get more sleep!

In a recent study, scientists found that those who got an average of 4 hours of sleep per night were 73 percent more likely to be obese than those that got the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

The links between obesity and sleep deprivation are thought to be:

  • You are less likely to exercise when you feel tired;
  • Sleep helps regulate food intake, and keeps you from "mindless" eating...not getting enough sleep lowers leptin, which is the hormone that suppresses appetite.

Sleep Deprivation and Fatigue

It goes without saying that if you aren't getting enough sleep, you are going to feel fatigued. So, you may ask yourself "why do I still feel tired during the day when I am getting plenty of sleep?"

The answer has to do with an independent circadian rhythm (independent of the duration and quality of your recent sleep), and the roll that it plays with our biological clock.

Most people experience two natural dips in alertness during the twenty-four hour day, regardless of the amount of sleep in the previous 24 hours. The difference in these dips when you are sleep deprived, however, is that they are much more pronounced.

The primary period of sleepiness occurs between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. The other daily period of sleepiness--commonly called the post-lunch dip--occurs in the mid afternoon.

I don't want you to think that just becuase you feel tired in the afternoon, you are sleep deprived. Most people feel a little tired at some point in the is only when the tiredness is disabling that you should be concerned.

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Swanson, Jennifer. Sleep Disorders Sourcebook. Detroit, Michigan: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1999.