Sleep is a fundamental necessity. Everyone requires slightly different amounts of sleep, as each body has different needs and rhythms based on behavior, environment, and genetics.1 On average, the optimal amount of sleep per night for an adult is between seven and nine hours.2
Being unable to get enough sleep to feel well-rested and alert is called sleep deprivation. The effects of lack of sleep can range widely. In mild cases, sleep deprivation can cause irritability, mood swings, a short-attention span, and difficulty concentrating.3 When lack of sleep becomes long-term, it can have much more serious health repercussions that can require medical attention.
Sleeplessness, sleep deficiency, or sleep deprivation is the inability to get a full night of restorative sleep. Many factors contribute to our sleep routines, habits, and quality of sleep. As a result, there are a multitude of causes of sleeplessness and sleep deficiency.
Sleep deprivation can be a result of stress, anxiety, or other psychological factors. Experiencing an intense period of stress or significant life changes can disturb your typical sleep behaviors and lead to sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can also be caused by environmental factors, such as a sensitivity to sound and light.
Sleep deprivation is not itself a disease or disorder, but it can be brought on by other illnesses or sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation can stem from sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, insomnia, or sleep apnea.4 Experiencing intense or chronic pain can also be a factor in preventing you from getting quality sleep.
As people age, they are more likely to suffer from difficulty sleeping. This is in part due to factors like illness, medications, shifts in the circadian rhythm that occur as we age, or a primary sleep disorder.5 Moreover, older adults are less likely to reach deep sleep and wake up more frequently during the night.6
The lack of sleep effects become more pronounced the longer the body goes without sleep. Mild sleep deprivation has some immediate and sometimes almost unnoticeable effects, such as impaired memory and alertness. These can lead to poor work performance and difficulty in personal relationships. Sleep deprivation can also lead to grumpiness, irritability, and depression. There are also a number of studies that suggest that lack of sleep can trigger sleep deprivation headaches and migraines.7
Chronic sleep deprivation can have serious health implications. Persistent sleep deficiency can lead to a number of physical health risks, including hypertension, diabetes, and heart issues.8 It can also lead to significant psychological issues, including anxiety and depression.
The human body requires sleep to function. Getting no sleep at all can lead to psychosis and even death.9 The potential for fatal repercussions of this means there are not many tests conducted on the effects of total sleep deprivation in humans. The longest recorded time someone has gone without sleeping was eleven days.10
Often, people find it difficult to sleep at appropriate times despite feeling tired or sleepy. This phenomenon may be attributed to a number of factors, including poor sleep hygiene, lack of exercise, pain, or stress.11 Getting to sleep quickly may be improved by using a home remedy to help you sleep, such as drinking an herbal tea or implementing a proper sleep routine.
Hallucinations usually start after around 72 hours without sleep.12 At this point, the chemical imbalance in the brain heightens emotional volatility and can begin to distort the perception of reality, causing hallucinations and emotional disturbance. Sleep deprivation effects on the brain can quickly become extreme.
The amount of sleep we need is dependent on a lot of factors. Children and teenagers, for instance, need significantly more sleep than do adults. Sleep deprivation is defined as getting less sleep than your body needs, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Generally, if adults get less than seven hours of sleep per night, they may be suffering from sleep deprivation.
Lack of sleep symptoms can be mild and are often easily attributed to other causes. They can manifest as excessive sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and mood swings.
Sleep deprivation can be an indicator of an underlying sleep disorder or illness. However, sleep deprivation can also just be an isolated issue relating to lifestyle and environment. Experiencing sleep deprivation does not unilaterally mean that a sleep disorder is present.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.