The average adult needs seven to nine hours of restorative sleep per night, although this number can fluctuate by individual.1 Being well-rested can greatly improve mood, overall health and well-being. However, despite the importance of sleep, a large majority of people do have trouble sleeping at some point in their lives. Sleeplessness can be caused by a variety of different life stressors, long work days, or underlying illnesses. These factors can make us tired and lead to difficulty concentrating the next day. Prolonged instances of lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation, can impact our health and lower our immune systems, making us susceptible to illness.2
Most people have experienced the effects of a night or two of poor sleep. Even in the short term, lack of sleep symptoms can affect and disrupt your day-to-day life. Not getting enough sleep can have an almost immediate effect on your mood, energy levels, and ability to focus.3 Many people who sleep poorly report an increase in stress levels that may result in difficulty dealing with daily problems in life. This is because lack of sleep can disrupt stress hormones, affecting your cognitive abilities.4
Irritability is another common lack of sleep effect. Feeling irritable and anxious may affect your feelings of motivation and engagement with your daily activities, making them feel more difficult and overwhelming.
As the sleep deficit builds up, being excessively tired during the day can cause problems with motor functioning. This lack of coordination and slow response time can become dangerous if operating a vehicle or other machinery.5 Determining the cause of your sleep deprivation can help you find ways to remedy it.
Long periods of sleep deprivation can have more serious effects on your health and cognition. Chronic difficulty sleeping is often a sign of a sleep disorder, such as insomnia, that may require medical attention.
Sleep deprivation can have myriad effects on your body. Over time, getting poor sleep or not enough sleep can lower your immune system defenses, making you more susceptible to common illnesses.6
The risk of obesity has also been linked to sustained lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep disrupts the balance of hunger-regulating hormones in your body, ghrelin and leptin.7 These hormones help your body regulate when to signal that it is hungry or full. When you consistently don’t sleep enough, your levels of ghrelin, the “hungry” hormone, go up, and leptin, the “full” hormone, goes down. This imbalance encourages you to eat more than you need.
Additionally, your body uses your sleep time to rebuild and repair itself. Not getting enough sleep can disrupt this process. For example, during sleep, your heart vessels heal and rebuild, so sustained sleep deficiency may also increase the likelihood of heart problems, and in increased likelihood of developing hypertension.8
Poor sleep may also affect your ability to remember things or create new memories, which can cause problems with learning. This inability to concentrate and remember can have serious repercussions on your quality of life.9
You can recover from lack of sleep by compensating with more sleep. The length of recovery is dependent on the length of deprivation.10
Sleep deprivation effects on your brain may inhibit the ability of your brain cells to communicate swiftly and effectively, making you sluggish and impeding your alertness. Your neurons can have trouble communicating.
As you get older, you require less sleep for optimal functioning. In general, infants need around 12–16 hours of sleep per day. Young children of three to five years old need 10–13 hours per day, while children between six and twelve need between 9–12 hours. As a teenager, 8–10 hours of sleep is ideal. Fully grown adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep.
It is commonly recommended to go to sleep before midnight, as your biological clock registers the dark as time for sleep and light as daytime. Everyone differs on what sleeping schedule works best for them. Many people are “night owls” or have to work late jobs and can’t sleep at an earlier time. With a consistent and quality sleep routine, this can be as restorative as an early sleep schedule. The most important factor in getting good quality rest is a consistent sleep routine.11
Some of the most common signs of sleep deprivation are increased tiredness, poor concentration, reduced alertness, memory issues, and mood swings.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.