Updated: 2022, Sep 22

How Sleep Deprivation Affects the Body: Here’s The Surprising Truth

Read on to learn the causes of sleep deprivation and exactly how it affects specific body functions and systems.

Did you know that sleep deprivation is a public health epidemic?

How Sleep Deprivation Affects the Body: Here’s The Surprising Truth
Effects of Sleep Deprivation. Image/Shutterstock

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. This is a huge problem, because sleep deprivation can have serious consequences on our health. In this blog post, we will discuss the effects of sleep deprivation on the body.

We will also provide some tips for getting a good night’s sleep!

The consequences of sleep deprivation

Consequences of sleep deprivation are numerous. Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It can also lead to physical effects, such as weight gain and high blood pressure [1]. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

So, how does sleep deprivation affect the body? Let’s take a look at some of the ways:

The brain is one of the first places that sleep deprivation takes a toll. When we don’t get enough sleep, our brains have a hard time functioning properly. We may have trouble concentrating, making decisions, and solving problems. We may also be more forgetful and less accurate.

It can also lead to weight gain, depression, anxiety, and irritability. Sleep deprivation can even impact your immune system [2], making you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses.

So how does sleep deprivation affect the body?

The brain is one of the most affected organs when it comes to sleep deprivation. Without enough sleep, you may have trouble concentrating, making decisions, and solving problems. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to memory problems and an increased risk of cognitive decline [3].

Your mental health can also be impacted by sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation has been linked to depression, anxiety, and mood swings [4]. For example, people who experience sleep deprivation report an increase in negative mood states and emotional regulation.

People who are sleep deprived are also more likely to have difficulty coping with stress. The body is most resilient and best able to handle stress when its needs are met. To optimize stress coping capacity, getting good rest each night is crucial.

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*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Sleep deprivation effect on cognition

Cognition, or our ability to think, process information, and remember things, is one of the first functions to be impacted by sleep deprivation.

This is because sleep plays an important role in helping us to learn new information and consolidating information [5]. When we are sleep deprived, we have trouble focusing and retaining information. We may also have trouble making decisions and solving problems.

It comes as no surprise that sleep deprivation can have a significant effect on attention [6]. More specifically, tasks that involve integrating relevant information during changing circumstances are most affected by sleep deprivation. For example, studies have shown that sleep-deprived individuals are more likely to make errors while driving and are more likely to have accidents.

In addition to affecting our attention, sleep deprivation can also impact our memory. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to impaired declarative and procedural memory [7]. Declarative memories are those that we can consciously recall, such as facts and events. Procedural memories are those that we use to perform skills or tasks, such as riding a bike or tying our shoes.

Sleep deprivation has also been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease [1]. This is because sleep plays an important role in clearing out toxins from the brain. When we are sleep deprived, these toxins build up and can damage brain cells.

Sleep deprivation can also lead to changes in our mood and emotions. We may become more irritable, anxious or depressed. We may also have difficulty controlling our emotions, leading to outbursts of anger or tearfulness [8].

Causes of sleep deprivation

There are many different causes of sleep deprivation. Often, it is a result of lifestyle choices such as working long hours, having an irregular sleep schedule, or not getting enough exercise. Work stress can be another contributor. It is important to disconnect from work at the end of the day, so that the body can get enough rest.

Other times, sleep deprivation can be caused by medical conditions such as sleep apnea, insomnia, or restless leg syndrome. Certain medications can also cause sleep problems. These are best managed by a physician to gain insight.

Is sleep deprivation different than insomnia?

While sleep deprivation and insomnia are both characterized by difficulty sleeping, they are not the same thing. Sleep deprivation is a temporary condition that is caused by lifestyle choices or circumstances beyond your control. Insomnia, on the other hand, is a chronic condition that can be caused by many different factors. It is important to see a doctor if you think you may be suffering from insomnia, as it can be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Treating sleep deprivation

The best way to treat sleep deprivation is to get enough rest. This may mean making changes to your lifestyle, or other strategies.

How to get a good night’s sleep

There are a few things you can do to promote better sleep. First, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. Both of these substances can interfere with sleep. Second, establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends.

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*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Third, create a relaxing bedtime routine that will help you wind down before sleep. This might include taking a warm bath or reading a book. Most importantly, it should be something that you enjoy and find relaxing. Finally, make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. This will create an environment that is conducive to sleep.

Sleep is essential for our health and well-being. If you are not getting enough sleep, be sure to take steps to improve your sleep habits. Your body will thank you!

8 sources

We review published medical research in respected scientific journals to arrive at our conclusions about a product or health topic. This ensures the highest standard of scientific accuracy. 1. Liu, H., & Chen, A. (2019). Roles of sleep deprivation in cardiovascular dysfunctions. Life Sciences, 219, 231–237. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2019.01.006
2. Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Haack, M. (2019). The sleep-immune crosstalk in health and disease. Physiological Reviews, 99(3), 1325–1380. https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00010.2018
3. Wu, H., Dunnett, S., Ho, Y.-S., & Chang, R. C.-C. (2019). The role of sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm disruption as risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 54, 100764. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yfrne.2019.100764
4. Tomaso, C. C., Johnson, A. B., & Nelson, T. D. (2020). The effect of sleep deprivation and restriction on mood, emotion, and emotion regulation: Three meta-analyses in one. Sleep, 44(6). https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsaa289
5. Newbury, C. R., Crowley, R., Rastle, K., & Tamminen, J. (2021). Sleep deprivation and memory: Meta-analytic reviews of studies on sleep deprivation before and after learning. Psychological Bulletin, 147(11), 1215–1240. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000348
6. Whitney, P., Hinson, J. M., & Nusbaum, A. T. (2019). A dynamic attentional control framework for understanding sleep deprivation effects on cognition. Sleep Deprivation and Cognition, 111–126. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.pbr.2019.03.015
7. Cousins, J. N., & Fernández, G. (2019). The impact of sleep deprivation on declarative memory. Sleep Deprivation and Cognition, 27–53. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.pbr.2019.01.007
8. Saghir, Z., Syeda, J. N., Muhammad, A. S., & Balla Abdalla, T. (2018). The amygdala, sleep debt, sleep deprivation, and the emotion of anger: A possible connection? Cureus. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.2912

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Dr. Amy Sarow

Dr. Amy Sarow obtained her Doctor of Audiology at the University of Iowa. She spent her 4th year residency at the Mayo Clinic School of

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