Sleep Deprivation: Know the Risks
Sleep deprivation is common,
but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. Find
out how a lack of sleep can affect your mind, weight
and immune system.
Sleep deprivation is more harmful that you might
realize. Understand the possible consequences of
sleep deprivation and what you can do about it.
What is sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation occurs when you don't get enough
sleep to feel alert and well rested. While the
amount of sleep a person needs varies a little, most
adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep
Sleep deprivation can occur if you don't get enough
total hours of sleep or as a result of poor quality
sleep. Common causes of sleep deprivation include
work hours, medical conditions, stress and personal
obligations, such as caring for a baby or a sick
What are the risks of sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation causes excessive daytime
sleepiness. The consequences of sleep deprivation
•Changes in cognitive function. Research shows that
people who get inadequate sleep over many nights
don't perform as well on complex mental tasks as do
people who get closer to seven hours of sleep a
night. Sleep deprivation can also cause
irritability, decreased libido and poor judgment.
•Weight gain. Sleeping less than five hours a night
might increase the likelihood of weight gain. This
could be because sleep duration affects hormones
regulating hunger and stimulates the appetite. Sleep
deprivation also leads to fatigue, which can result
in less physical activity.
•High blood pressure. Sleeping five hours or less a
night might increase the risk of developing high
blood pressure or worsening already high blood
•Weakened immune system. Studies show that people
who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more
likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus,
such as the common cold. Lack of sleep can also
affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
•Crashes. Excessive sleepiness is a major cause of
car and truck crashes.
•Quality of life. Sleep deprivation might cause you
to cut back on enjoyable activities due to fatigue.
Inappropriate drowsiness or unplanned naps might
also cause friction at home and at work.
A recent study also reported that men who slept less
than six hours a night had a higher overall risk of
premature death than men who slept six hours or more
What's the best way to deal with sleep deprivation?
The best way to overcome the fatigue caused by sleep
deprivation is to meet your sleep needs — by either
increasing the amount of time you sleep or improving
your sleep quality. If possible, sleep in until you
wake up on your own feeling alert for several days
in a row. Strategic short naps — less than 30
minutes — also can help. If you know you're about to
experience sleep loss, getting extra sleep
beforehand might reduce the impact on your alertness
If sleeping in or napping isn't possible, physical
activity, caffeine, bright light exposure or
prescription medications might temporarily help you
deal with sleep deprivation. Keep in mind, however,
that there's no substitute for getting enough