Effects of Sleep Deprivation


The prevalence of disease and illness is increasing worldwide, and the causes of this have yet to be fully understood. Sleep deprivation can negatively impact an individual physically and mentally. Lack of sleep, also known as sleep deprivation, decreases the ability for the body to function properly which in return can reduce workflow productivity, and overall well-being (Thomas, et.al, 2000). Sleep deprivation can be one of the leading causes of accidents such as friendly fire within the military, vehicle accidents, and even failures found within work situations. Long periods without sleep is usually greater than 40 hours, which commonly happens during work training periods, especially those in the military or civilians in emergency work situations.

Research on sleep has increased over the past two decades, demonstrating how important sleep truly is. There are some individuals that strive on just a few hours of sleep, but don’t be intrigued as these are rare cases. Long term side effects are prevalent in humans that spend long periods of time without sleep. It is clear that sleep is a vital step, especially for babies, for growth and development within the stages of life. The four stages of sleep each have a significant importance for humans, where stage 4, past the REM period, is stated as the most important. Below, you will find how sleep deprivation can impact individuals that spend a short or long period without sleep.


Sleep deprivation can lead to a temporary change in mood and cognition, as well as several studies observing it within psychiatric disorders (Kahn-Greene, et. al,  2007). However, there is no clear amount in which sleep deprivation is linked to the clinical symptoms of psychopathology in individuals. In a study done by Kahn-Greene, et.al, (2007), participants had an increased amount of self-reported psychopathology symptoms after no sleep for two nights. However, these symptoms had a little effect on behavioral dysregulation or thought disorder. The findings of this study suggest that the loss of sleep can disrupt regions of the brain that involves affective regulation, therefore, serving as a model of how brain dysfunction is connected to psychopathology.

Cardiovascular, Inflammatory, & Metabolic Implications

Sleep curtailment has increased among Americans overs the past few decades, causing it to be associated with the risk of diabetes and obesity (Knutson, et.al, 2007). In today’s society, more than around 30% of men and women, from the age of 30 and 64 years old, report less than six hours of sleep every night (Knutson, et.al, 2007). In a study done by Knutson, et.al, (2007), evidence done from laboratory studies show that there is an adverse reaction from loss of sleep on glucose regulation. This increases the risk between the duration of sleep loss and any existing diabetic condition.

Research is increasing each day on how sleep loss can be linked to cardiovascular risks such as blood pressure, hormonal regulation, cardiac morbidity, and glucose metabolism. In a combination of many self-reported sleep loss complaints, several conclusions were found: short periods of sleep deprivation causes an increase in coronary heart disease, glucose tolerance damage, and an increased risk of diabetes for women (Mullington, et.al, 2009). Within the first stages of sleeping, anabolic hormones, for instance, growth hormone levels reach their maximum. When sleep deprivation is present, this sleep associated growth hormone is either diminished or decreased.

Alertness & Cognitive Performance

Two functions are decreased when sleep deprived are cognitive performance and alertness (Thomas, et.al, 2000). Over the past hundred years, the effects of long-term sleep deprivation in humans have been examined. Decreased amounts of alertness are found in both long term, and short-term sleep loss in individuals. Cognitive performance, with or without the inclusion of lack of alertness, is decreased as well in both long, and short term sleep deprivation (Thomas, et. al, 2000). Therefore, task performances such as decision-making, judgment, logical reasoning, memory, communication, and creative thinking are impaired. These effects can begin as early as the first night of sleep loss, and become worse as time goes on.

Thomas, et. al, (2000), conducted a study that examined the global and regional changes in brain activity that is caused by sleep deprivation. The researchers used a time series design on 17 male volunteers from 21 to 29 years of age. Several types of instruments were used to analyze the subjects and their decreased sleep patterns over several days. The following results were found that just losing one night of sleep decreases waking regional brain activity that mediates alertness and high-order cognitive processes. The impairments following the loss of sleep for one night suggest that just one night of adequate sleep will restore and sustain normal behavior and brain activity. Thus, the findings from this study show that sleep is a necessity for humans to have normal brain functioning. As well the stressing the importance of such for productivity at work, safety, and overall well-being (Thomas, et. al, 2000).

Visual Impairments

Loss of sleep can cause a disruption of the retinal image formation, therefore causing the perceived images to become dim, including double vision. Impairments of visual perception may occur from there. Usually, when loss of sleep affects vision, it starts with tunnel vision and can cause problems with the center of vision as well if the period of sleep loss is long (Orzel-Gryglewska, 2010). When In a sleep deprived state, visual processing speeds reduce and this reflects the decreased amount of functional neural circuits that are found in this state (Kong, et. al, 2014). Interestingly, when sleep loss exceeds over 72 hours, there is no significant increase in auditory errors.  However, after 24 hours of sleep deprivation, other parts of the body are affected, such as the decrease of being able to tell smells apart (Orzel- Gryglewska, 2010).

After just one night of losing sleep, being able to perceive stimuli within the peripheral and central areas of the visual field are disruption, and this is increased if driving (Orzel-Gryglewska, 2010). However, driving while sleep deprived is also age-dependent. Driving that is long and monotonous can cause vision to become narrower, whereas severe drowsiness causes a disruption within the entire visual field. Restricting sleep can risk driving safety, showing a correlation in the amount of time and quality of sleep a driver receives and the amount of road accidents (Orzel-Gryglewska, 2010).

During one study, participants that had sleep loss had increased driving errors in a driving simulator than those that didn’t have any. Several variables impact the way sleep deprivation causes driving impairments: age, time of day, the amount of sleep loss, and type of vehicle. Age is a large factor in how drowsiness and sleep deprivation related accidents. This is also determined by the time of day the accident occurred. Drivers that are under the age of 25 tend to cause twice as many road-related accidents when sleep deprived than the majority of driver age groups.  Whereas, older drivers tend to drive during the day with sleep deficiency, and younger drivers cause more accidents at night when sleep deprived (Orzel-Gryglewska, 2010).

How Does this Affect REM Sleep?

REM, rapid eye movement, is a stage of sleep where dreams occur, promoting the encoding of previous memories (Van Heugten- Van, et. al, 2013). Researchers have recently proposed that sleep loss plays a large role in the introduction of dissociative symptoms. Dreamlike mentation can cause implications that invade the waking state, failures in memory, and lead to these dissociative symptoms as well. Through most recent studies, it is clear that the hypotheses that sleep deprivation increased excessive or out of the phase REM activity that causes underlying dissociative symptoms.


Sleep deprivation in both short and long term periods take a toll on your health, mentally and physically. It is clear that sleep plays a large role in growth and development for humans, without it consequences add up each day. It is extremely important to recognize the symptoms of sleep deprivations, which can be a huge factor in sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation affects the relationships around you, your overall well-being, and the safety of others. With the help of research, education, and risk assessments, the implications from sleep deprivation will improve.

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Kahn-Greene, E. T., Killgore, D. B., Kamimori, G. H., Balkin, T. J., & Killgore, W. D. (2007). The effects of sleep deprivation on symptoms of psychopathology in healthy adults. Sleep medicine8(3), 215-221.

Knutson, K. L., Spiegel, K., Penev, P., & Van Cauter, E. (2007). The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep medicine reviews11(3), 163-178.

Kong, D., Asplund, C. L., & Chee, M. W. L. (2014). Sleep deprivation reduces the rate of rapid picture processing. NeuroImage,91, 169-76. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.01.037

Mullington, J. M., Haack, M., Toth, M., Serrador, J. M., & Meier-Ewert, H. K. (2009). Cardiovascular, inflammatory, and metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 51(4), 294-302.

Thomas, M., Sing, H., Belenky, G., Holcomb, H., Mayberg, H., Dannals, R., … & Redmond, D. (2000). Neural basis of alertness and cognitive performance impairments during sleepiness. I. Effects of 24 h of sleep deprivation on waking human regional brain activity. Journal of sleep research9(4), 335-352.

Orzel-Gryglewska, J. (2010). CONSEQUENCES OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 23(1), 95-114. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218398743?accountid=458

Van Heugten-van, d. K., Merckelbach, H., & Lynn, S. J. (2013). Dissociative symptoms and REM sleep. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36(6), 630-1; discussion 634-59. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X13001453

Scott Kee, C.Ht.
Scott Kee graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute (HMI) in October of 2013. Completing this comprehensive program has earned him the title of Certified Hypnotherapist with the Hypnotherapists Union Local 472 (Certification/License Number: 10904230).

Scott runs a successful private practice in Temecula, California. He is greatly interested in helping people with life constraining and self limiting behaviors or problems. Most people don't understand these beliefs were embedded into their mind before 8 or 9 years of age and will continue to be locked in for a lifetime without help. Hypnosis can be used to replace these self limiting beliefs with more beneficial ones. Your subconscious mind will then automatically seek out success versus defeat. Scott considers it truly rewarding to help people create a more positive life for themselves.