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Sleep Deprivation Effects on Health

Updated on 30 December 2020
Bsc Courses
6 min read 4 views
Updated on 30 December 2020

Sleep deprivation is a condition that occurs when we do not get enough or no sleep. An average adult needs 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night to stay healthy. When this requirement is not met, sleep deprivation occurs.

At least at some point in life, we all have felt a little bit heavy headed and as if our brain is getting squeezed by something after we couldn’t sleep for a night. Even one night without rest can make us feel drowsy, coupled with slow thinking, lack of energy and an irritable mood. If this phenomenon occurs frequently, sleep deprivation treatment is needed as it can lead to some serious health issues.

The longer we delay our sleep, the worse it gets. Sleep deprivation has different stages which we shall see now. 

Stages of Sleep Deprivation 

Well, there is no universal timeline for sleep deprivation, some people feel sleep deprived earlier than others. So, the following are average timings within which the effects of less sleep are visible.

A person feels low as the sleep gets delayed for a longer time. Let us look at the sleep deprivation stages and what a person feels with each missed sleep.

There are five stages of sleep deprivation.

Stage 1: After 24 hours

It’s very common to stay awake till 24 hours. When we do this, we have already entered the first stage of sleep deprivation. At this stage, a feeling of exhaustion occurs mostly.

According to a report, stage 1 sleep deprivation can raise the blood alcohol concentration up to 0.10 percent, which is higher than the legal limit of alcohol intake permitted for driving.

Stage 2: After 34 hours

When we miss 34 hours of sleep, the symptoms of sleep deprivation become more intense. At this stage, we have microsleeps (brief periods of sleep) without us realizing it.

The brain has difficulty in communicating and coordinating with its different parts. And it seriously undermines our cognitive abilities, causing things like-

  1. Impaired memory
  2. Impaired decision making
  3. Slow reaction time
  4. Difficulty in acquiring and processing new information
  5. Increased appetite
  6. Increased inflammation
  7. Extreme fatigue, etc.


Stage 3: After 48 hours

This is the stage termed as Extreme Sleep Deprivation. It gets harder to stay awake through this time. More microsleeps occur, but there are hallucinations as well- a state of seeing, hearing and feeling things that do not occur in reality.

 A person may go through-

  1. Anxiety,
  2. Extreme Fatigue
  3. Increased irritability
  4. Heightened Stress Levels, etc.


Stage 4: After 72 Hours

At this moment, the urge to sleep becomes worse. Longer and more frequent microsleeps occur. The perception of things becomes impaired. And the hallucinations occurring in Stage 3 become more complex and severe.

A person feels-

  1. Illusions,
  2. Delusions,
  3. Depersonalization,
  4. Disordered Thinking


Stage 5: After 96 hours or more

This is the most extreme stage of sleep deprivation. At this moment, a person’s sense of reality gets seriously affected, not just affected, it gets seriously distorted. The urge to sleep becomes unbearable.

With this amount of loss of sleep, a person cannot make sense of reality, this phenomenon is termed as sleep deprivation psychosis.


Though these conditions which occur in different stages are not permanent, however, if this becomes a habit, the lack of sleep side effects can be witnessed.


Effects of Sleep deprivation

There are serious effects of frequent sleep deprivation on the brain and overall health.

Psychological effects of sleep deprivation come in the form of increasing risks of making unintentional errors, low cognitive function, slowed reaction time, mood swings, reduced attention span, worsened memory and hampered decision-making ability.

A persistent lack of sleep makes the side effects much far-reaching and causes greater risk to physical health as well. Such issues occur-

Cardiovascular diseases- Lack of sleep causes cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks and stroke.

Diabetes- Insufficient sleep can undermine the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels, and hence the problem of diabetes can occur.

Obesity- When someone is unable to sleep, calorie and carbohydrate consumption intake increases as a consequence. This indicates that people do consume more calories when they are sleep deprived, hence this leads to the chances of obesity and unhealthy weight gain.

Immunodeficiency- Sleep deficiency leads to a worsened immune system. Contracting diseases become a common phenomenon and a person’s body shows a poorer response to vaccines and medicines as well.

Other than these problems, hormonal abnormalities, pain and mental health disorders come with a lack of sleep.


Sleep deprivation amongst Students

The problem of sleep deprivation is increasingly occurring in students. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 35% of adults in the U.S. are sleep deprived. They are sleeping less than the recommended 7 hours.

Lack of sleep can impact the mental performance of students. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 44% of students experience depression, 50% struggled with anxiety and a whopping 80% of students felt overwhelmed by their academic responsibilities, as a consequence of lack of sleep. 

Of all, the most alarming effects of sleep deprivation on students are the decrease in their GPAs (grade point average). It may give a “scholarly” feeling to burn the midnight oil, but the hard truth is that a frequent lack of sleep reduces the overall academic efficiency of students in the long term.


Treatments of sleep deprivation

The best news about sleep deprivation is that it can be cured. The following are some of the good Sleep deprivation treatments.

Napping- If for any reason you couldn’t get sleep yesternight, you can still make it up by having some quick naps. But it should not be overdone, as a nap should not be extended to more than 30 minutes.

Sleep Hygiene- Sleep hygiene refers to clean sleeping habits. Sleeping and waking up at a particular time and for a particular period is desirable. It can greatly prevent and cure sleep deprivation in everyone.

Light Therapy- A person who experiences frequent insomnia should consult a doctor and request for Light Therapy. Light Therapy helps in resetting the body’s internal clock which helps in having natural and healthy sleep.

Other than these treatments, some others might be helpful as well, such as, Over the counter (OTC) sleep aids, prescription sleeping pills, and breathing devices like a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine



Sleeping is a basic human need, just like eating, drinking and breathing. There might be a variety of reasons for not getting enough sleep, but this must not become a part of our life, otherwise. A person should practice good sleep hygiene and should take sleep deprivation treatments if having difficulty. If nothing works, and the problem persists, one must consult the doctor immediately.

 After all, sleep is the foundation of good health and well being. This foundation hence, must not be weakened.

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