The Effects of Sleep Deficiency on Wellness


healthy sleep schedule

When it comes to your well-being, sleep is just as important as proper nutrition and exercise. Many people neglect their rest or experience poor quality sleep. Research suggests that 7-19% of adults in the United States aren’t getting enough sleep each day, and 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders. The effects of sleep deficiency on wellness have both short- and long-term consequences.

What Is Sleep Deficiency?

Sleep deficiency occurs when you aren’t sleeping long enough, at the wrong times or have a poor quality of sleep. A variety of conditions can cause sleep deficiency:

  • Jobs that limit the time available for sleep or force you to sleep at odd hours of the day
  • Medication, stimulants, alcohol or drugs that disrupt your circadian rhythm
  • Untreated anxiety, depression or other emotional or physical stress
  • Exposure to electronics and artificial light that prevents you from falling asleep
  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea

Sleep needs change and vary across age demographics and according to individual needs, but the CDC recommends 9-12 hours per day for children aged 6-12 years, 8-10 hours per day for teens aged 13-18 years and seven or more hours for adults 18 and older.

What Are the Effects of Sleep Deficiency on Wellness?

Sleep is an opportunity for your body to recover and process the information and experiences of the day. Even one night of sleep loss can have significant effects on your performance in the following days. Chronic sleep deficiency may be linked to health issues such as immune dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, increased cancer risk and mental health.

Cognitive Wellness

In the short-term, sleep disruption can affect stress hormones, so sleep-deficient individuals have a higher stress response to experiences and tasks than those who are well-rested. This increased stress response may also affect normal daily function, cognition and mood. Sleep deficiency can cause slower reaction times and reduce the ability to focus and be productive, and it can be as similarly impairing as alcohol is for drivers, increasing the risk of an accident.

Ongoing poor sleep may impact your ability to learn and retain information because sleep is when your brain forms new neural pathways and processes memories and information. Without adequate rest, you may have a more difficult time in school, work or other performance-related environments.

Emotional Wellness

Only one night of poor sleep can cause increased feelings of irritability, anxiety, depression or other emotional distress. Research suggests that sleep-deficient individuals are more likely to classify neutral images as negative in comparison to well-rested subjects. Adolescents who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior, such as substance abuse, smoking and aggression.

Long-term effects can alter activity in some parts of the brain and can cause trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling emotions and behaviors and responding to change. You are more likely to feel angry, impulsive and unmotivated, and sleep deficiency is linked to major depression. Depression itself can reinforce poor sleep patterns, creating an unhealthy and difficult-to-break cycle of sleep deficiency.


Sleep deficiency may affect your body’s ability to react properly to insulin. Poor sleep increases your blood sugar levels, which means that sleeping fewer than five hours per night greatly increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Eye Health

Although dark under-eye circles and reddened eyes may be an obvious sign of sleep deprivation, lack of sleep may cause more than cosmetic damage. A 2018 study on sleep deprivation and the lacrimal system found that eye secretions were substantially decreased after 10 days of sleep deficiency. This resulted in the same set of symptoms people experience with dry eye disorder. Once regular sleep habits were resumed, eye health improved.

Immune Function

Individuals who get a healthy amount of sleep are less likely to catch colds. If you get an average of fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, you may have a decreased ability to resist infections. Some studies also suggest that sleep deprivation impairs the effectiveness of flu immunization.

Changes in immune function can also negatively affect collagen production, which helps create healthy hair and skin.


Inadequate sleep may accelerate the growth of tumors and, consequently, the risk of cancer. Reduced melatonin can increase reproductive hormones and decrease functions such as DNA repair, inhibition of tumor growth and free-radical scavenging.

Cardiovascular Health

There’s a strong correlation between long-term sleep deprivation and hypertension and artery plaque. Evidence shows that adults who sleep less than seven hours per night or have sleep apnea may have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.


Sleep loss may increase the risk of obesity due to its impairment of insulin sensitivity and increase of appetite. Sleep affects the production of neurotransmitters leptin and ghrelin, which tell your body when you’re full or hungry. Overproduction of ghrelin due to disrupted sleep may cause you to overeat. Studies show that sleep-deprivation makes you more likely to choose higher-calorie foods, which can cause weight gain over time.

Proper sleep is vital to a long, healthy life. The effects of sleep deficiency on wellness may include decreased emotional and cognitive function in the short-term, and long-term effects may have more significant health consequences. If you or your children are experiencing sleep deficiency or sleep disorders, it may be time to consider a doctor’s visit.

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