Sleep deprivation is described as not getting enough sleep and it is something that the majority of us will experience in our lifetime.

In fact, today, we are waking up to sleep deprivation symptoms more than ever, with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that insufficient sleep is now a public health epidemic.

‘What is sleep deprivation’ you ask?

We sometimes forget that the quality of our sleep is just as important as the quantity. In this article, we are going to tell you everything you need to know about how to tackle good sleep, including sleep deprivation symptoms, the effects it can have on your overall health and most importantly, your guide on how to start getting better quality shut-eye.


What Is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is defined as not getting enough sleep (We’ll get to how much is enough sleep later in this article).

Sleep deprivation can be acute, meaning that it happens for a short period of time, or it does not occur on an ongoing basis.

If sleep deprivation is defined as chronic, it means that the issue occurs over a longer period of time and on a regular basis.

Sleep deprivation is also known as insufficient sleep or restlessness.

In one of the largest scale studies completed on sleep, the CDC share significant insights from U.S. adults and their sleep patterns.

It has been reported that:

  • Almost 50% of U.S. adults report that they have problems concentrating during the day.

  • 11.3% of U.S. adults report that insufficient sleep impacts on their ability to drive.

  • 8.6% of U.S. adults report that insufficient sleep has a negative impact on their work performance.

In answering the question “what is sleep deprivation?”, it’s important to uncover some of the most common causes behind what is making us sleep less and fatigue more.

Some of the most common causes of insufficient sleep include:

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are more common than we might think. Today, 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder of some kind. The most common sleep disorders are insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy.

The American Sleep Association states that insomnia is the most common sleep disorder with a reported 30% of U.S. adults currently living with the condition.

Sleep apnea is the second most common sleep disorder with 25 million U.S. adults currently living with obstructive sleep apnea. Narcolepsy and restless leg syndrome are the third and fourth most common sleep disorders reported in the United States today.


As men and women age, there are numerous variables that may play a part in their quality of sleep, Cleveland Clinic report that 50% of men and women over the age of 65 complain of at least one sleep problem.

For women, the onset of menopause may often cause disruptions in sleep due to hormonal changes and subsequent hot flashes.

For men and women, certain medical conditions, necessary medications and a change in lifestyle due to retirement may all play a part issues with sleep.


Sleep deprivation is common alongside conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, chronic pain syndrome, cancer, heart disease, stroke, Parkinson disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Illness and sleep deprivation work both ways. If someone is ill, they are likely to suffer from sleep related issues, if someone is suffering with sleep deprivation, they are more likely to become ill.

Acute sleep deprivation may lead to a whole host of negative short term effects such as feeling tired all of the time, sleepiness, clumsiness, mood changes, an increased appetite and weight gain.

Chronic sleep deprivation may lead to high blood pressure, obesity, psychiatric issues, heart attack and stroke.

The Cycle Of Life

This might sound beyond obvious but any changes in your life, whether big or small, can have a significant impact on your sleep, such as having a baby, changing jobs, shift work, certain lifestyle choices and chronic stress can all lead to a shut down in your shut eye.

Sleep Deprivation Symptoms


Sleep deprivation symptoms can easily be mistaken for a mid-day slump, feeling a little “under the weather” or feeling compelled to “just rest your eyes”, however, it’s important to bear in mind that each hour of sleep that we lose, goes into a “sleep debt.”

At first, sleep deprivation may cause minor day-to-day symptoms that aren’t easy to diagnose. Over time, these signs and symptoms may become more serious.

Initial sleep deprivation symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Short term memory loss
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Weakness
  • Reduced immunity
  • Mood changes

Longer term associated sleep deprivation symptoms include:

  • Higher risk of infection
  • Memory loss
  • Issues with concentration and/or judgment
  • Reduced creativity and mental flexibility
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of libido
  • A higher risk for developing depression and/or anxiety
  • Increased risk for stroke, heart disease, and asthma attack
  • Increased risk for potentially life-threatening accidents
  • Hallucinations
  • Severe mood swings such as depression, anxiety and/or paranoia

How Does Getting Too Little Sleep Affect Your Health?

Getting too little sleep may affect your health in a number of ways. Most commonly, not getting enough sleep may affect your immune system, your blood pressure and blood sugar, levels of inflammation in the body, your mood and hormone production.

It’s interesting to note that the reason we actually need to sleep isn’t fully understood. Scientists know that there are a number of unique and social factors that related back to why people require a certain duration of sleep.

Some of these factors include your age, lifestyle, personality traits, social obligations, health conditions, corresponding medical conditions and your environment. Do you know the recommended hours that you should spend sleeping?

In this section, we are going to break this information down so you can understand the most common ways that insufficient sleep may affect different systems in the body.

Your Brain And Sleep

When we get a sufficient amount of rest, we aid the brain in boosting memory retention, concentration and learning. During good quality rest, the brain also has a chance to filter out toxins and reset for the day ahead.

If you have ever ‘pulled an all-nighter’ to get studies or work done, you’ll know the feeling of your head being filled with cotton wool. It’s not pleasant and it’s just one of the negative side effects that you may feel from a lack of sleep.

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation slows down brain cell responses and the firing of neurons. This may lead to mental lapses, difficulty concentrating or focusing on one task at hand. The study also reports that sleep deprivation may also slow down visual perception.

We also know that our emotions are driven by neurological processes. A lack of sleep can lead to negative mood changes through differences in communication between the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex, which leads me to my next point about the connection between your emotional wellness and sleep.

Your Emotional Wellness And Sleep

The amygdala sits at the centre of our brain and works heavily on our emotional perception and how we process our surroundings. The brain also believes what we tell it, for instance, if you think to yourself; “I am scared”, this message will be sent to the amygdala which will spring the body into “fight or flight” mode, whether or not you are faced with an actual threat.

It has been found that sleep deprivation leads to the amygdala over reacting to mildly negative stimuli. In simpler terms, those who are sleep deprived are more likely to feel anxiety, irritation and anger in response to stimuli that those who are rested would not perceive as a stressor.

In fact, in one study where participants were shown negative imagery, it was shown that there was 60% more activity in the amygdala in those who were sleep deprived in comparison to those who had not received sufficient rest.

You might think that it’s a better idea to push yourself to the limit when you’re trying to hit a deadline but the better option is to always go to bed, wake up refreshed and then continue with your work, if you want to have a clearer head and better insights.

While we may not fully understand why we need to sleep, we do know is that if you don’t get enough sleep, you will feel the negative effects sooner rather than later. Whether you’re in a bad mood the next day, experience a lack motivation or can’t concentrate, these are all of the effects of not getting enough sleep.

Your Immune System And Sleep

People who don’t get enough sleep are more susceptible to getting sick if they are exposed, say to the common cold. Those who do not get sufficient rest will also take longer to recover from common illnesses.

The thinking behind the effects of sleep on your immune system are down to proteins called cytokines which have an anti-inflammatory impact on the system as well as acting as a defense mechanism against infection. If you are not getting enough sleep, the volume of cytokines in the blood reduces, which may lead to a decreased inflammatory and infection fighting impact.

Your Circulatory System And Sleep

Sufficient rest promotes the restoration of blood and heart vessels. Sleep also regulates blood pressure and blood sugar, both of which will make an impact on both weight gain and overall heart health.

While it might sound extreme, sleep significantly impacts on your cardiovascular risk in the long run.

Your Hormones And Sleep

Insufficient sleep may lead to decreased testosterone levels in men, according to an Asian study which reported that while testosterone is not subject to the circadian rhythm in the same way that our stress hormone cortisol would be, levels are very much tied to the quality and quantity of our sleep. A lower sex drive due to sleep deprivaton may be connected to lower levels of testosterone, as well as general feelings of fatigue.

“Testosterone remains elevated for the duration of sleep. The subsequent decrease in testosterone depends on the duration of wakefulness; decreasing more with prolonged wakefulness.”

For women, hormonal changes may lead to issues with sleep, especially around pregnancy and menopause.

Your Weight And Sleep

You might think that because you are spending most of the 24 hour period awake, you are bound to be burning more calories, this is actually not the case. Insufficient sleep can lead to weight gain.

This weight gain is connected to the release of two hormones called leptin and ghrelin which play a role in controlling your appetite, feelings of satiety and fullness after meals.

When you don’t get sufficient rest, leptin will decrease while hunger hormone ghrelin increases may become unbalanced, on top of that, insufficient sleep can lead to the release of insulin which promotes fat storage and a higher risk of developing pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

According to research, each 1 hour reduction in sleep time per day is associated with an increase of 0.35 kilograms (kg) in body weight.


How Much Sleep Do You Need?

How much sleep you need depends on your age group. The minimum number of hours of sleep we require is 7 hours. The maximum number of sleep hours we require is 17 hours.

How much sleep do you need per 24 hour period? According to the National Sleep Foundation, you need:

  • 14-17 hours of sleep if you’re a newborn (0-3 months)
  • 12 to 15 hours of sleep if you’re an infant (4 to 11 months)
  • 11 to 14 hours of sleep if you’re a toddler (1 to 2 years)
  • 10 to 13 hours of sleep if you’re a preschooler (3 to 5 years)
  • 9 to 11 hours of sleep if you’re 6 to 13 years of age
  • 8 to 10 hours of sleep if you’re 14 to 17 years of age
  • 7 to 9 hours of sleep if you’re 18 to 64 years of age
  • 7 to 8 hours of sleep if you’re an older adult (over 65 years)

Sleep deprivation might sound like an “out-there” medical condition that you don’t suspect you’ll ever live with, but there are many different definitions of sleep deprivation and as we know, it will affect most people in their lifetime.

Sleep deprivation or insufficient sleep is a very personal experience. What might seem like barely enough sleep for one person might seem like a marathon slumber for others, that is how we start to continuously build up a sleep debt.

A sleep debt refers to the hours of sleep lost that are necessary to make you feel refreshed. For instance, if you require 8 hours of sleep to wake up feeling refreshed but you sleep 7 hours, 5 nights of the week, you will have a sleep debt of 5 hours.

This sleep debt can be paid back through adding a longer sleep period to every 24 hour period. Though it might not be easy, it is possible and the health benefits of restoring your sleep pattern will be worth the effort.

What Are The Best Methods For Good Sleep?

1. Put a realistic sleep schedule in place

You need to be realistic about what you can achieve during the day if you truly want to lock in a sufficient amount of sleep. If you plan too much during the day, your mind will be racing by the time you get to sleep, no matter how much you get ticked off the list. Remain realistic about what you can achieve in a day and that will play a massive role in setting you up for the night.

2. Create a restful environment

It wouldn’t be easy to do a fitness routine in a fancy restaurant so don’t expect it to be easy either to fall asleep in a bedroom that doesn’t promote relaxation.

One of the best things you can do for yourself at this point is to close down all screens one hour minimum before you plan on going to sleep, if screens are unavoidable, install an app that takes the sting out of blue light on electronics or wear blue-filtering glasses.

Different techniques work for different people but get creative and find what works for you, it might be lighting candles, or it might silence. One thing that’s for sure is that sleeping in a cooler room promotes the perfect balance between deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep.

You might think that electronic blankets and hot water bottles will make you feel cosy and sleepy, but during the night, you are actually more likely to feel hot and bothered. Stay cool in bed for optimal sleep.

3. Pay attention to what you eat and drink during the day

What you eat and drink in a day will massively impact on the quality of your sleep. If you are already having issues with sleep, you need to remove caffeine, sugary drinks and any other stimulants that will keep your mind racing when you’re trying to get some shut-eye.

Try to take a more holistic approach to eating and drinking by not only being mindful of what you are eating and drinking but also through taking time to enjoy the moments when you’re eating and drinking, and be weary of the shelf life of your energy intake throughout the day. For instance, 1 cup of coffee 12 hours before bed is the same as a quarter cup of coffee right before bed.

4. Do not sleep during the day

For those adults who have issues with sleeping during the night, sleeping during the day is one of the biggest no-nos. Having a concrete plan in place is paramount to success is sleeping through the night and sleeping during the day is sure to mess with this routine. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day to keep a routine and balance in place.

5. Try to incorporate daily exercise into your routine

Daily exercise is always a sure way to give yourself a boost of feel-good endorphins. It’s also one of the healthiest ways of tiring yourself out if you are having issues with sleep!

Just make sure you don’t exercise within two hours of going to bed as the very same endorphins may just keep you feeling too awake to go to sleep!

6. Keep a sleep journal

Keeping track of your sleep trials and tribulations will be hugely helpful in better understanding what could be the root problem of why you can’t fall asleep.

Use technology to your advantage to track your sleep and get to the root of what might be causing your sleep issues. If technology isn’t your style, put a pen to paper, whatever you do, just ensure that you are noticing your habits. It will prove very useful when you visit your doctor in the future.

If you’re reading this article, you must be tired of being tired! We sympathize, it can be a very tough time. If you can't sleep, there are some useful tips you can utilize such as taking a cold shower, reading a book, going for a walk, phoning a friend, meditation and listening to guided sleep sounds and music.

The most important thing to remember is to get out of bed until you feel sleepy again. If you continue to experience sleep deprivation symptoms for over six weeks, it may be time to seek further advice and assistance.

If you want to talk to a member of the LetsGetChecked medical team and learn more about your symptoms, you can contact us directly via live chat or schedule a call with a member of our nursing team. We will offer you the support and guidance you need.

Read: What Are The Effects Of Alcohol On Your Health?