Sleep is a big part of our lives. We spend a third of our lives asleep. Even when we’re not sleeping, the amount and quality of sleep you get in the night plays a big role in our day to day performance and ultimately our overall quality of life.
We covered what happens when we sleep in why do we sleep. But what happens if you don’t get enough sleep? Can anything bad happen?
In this article you’ll discover how sleep deprivation affects your day to day performance and determine whether a lack of sleep can cause any lasting effects.
What are the effects of sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation has some very wide ranging effects. But what happens if, for example, you couldn’t sleep properly for a week? What sleep deprivation effects would you experience? The areas we’ll look at in this article are psychological, productivity, health, and relationships.
Psychological Effects of Sleep Deprivation
One of the first things you’ll begin to experience is a change of mood. Even the slightest things will begin to irritate you, even small daily tasks. If this continues, you many soon feel unable to cope with life’s challenges, which could in turn lead to depression. Even if you’re usually a calm, friendly person, you may suffer from doses of aggression.
As it gets worse you might experience hallucinations. As a teenager experiencing lack of sleep I remember seeing the road in front of me ungulate up and down like the ocean as I waited for my school bus. This was a fairly tame hallucination, but they can get much worse with time.
Severe cases can create confusion, paranoia and even complete shifts in personality.
Productivity Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation will affect your productivity massively. You’ll be feeling exhausted so you wouldn’t feel like doing anything. Even if you did, you would have a much harder time going about it. You’ll find it harder to concentrate, focus and pay attention to your work. Your creativity and abstract thinking would also be heavily impacted. You’ll become clumsy and your decision making would be very poor, and bad decisions could lead to problems in the future. Staying alert would be very hard. Your personal productivity would be completely destroyed.
In short, your performance and mental ability would pretty much slump. This can have horrific implications for your career, especially if you hold a position of key responsibility. In many careers, just one little mistake could lead to one major mess landing you in the firing line. If you operate heavy machinery, briefly falling asleep for a few seconds, known as a microsleep, can have deadly consequences.
It can have devastating effects on children too. Student sleep deprivation is a massive problem. Just like adult’s careers, children need to be at the top of their game to succeed at school. I remember a time at school when I had an illness and was having trouble sleeping at night because of it. Unfortunately, at the same time you had to take examinations to decide which classes I would be put into at my new high school. Needless to say, I was put in the bottom sets for almost all my classes, even the ones I was once top at. It took me 3 years to work my way up from the bottom classes to the top classes. Thankfully I had time to recover my grades. But if the same had happened during my high school exams, it could have had a devastating effect on my future career potential.
Health Effects of Sleep Deprivation
And that’s not all. Long term sleep deprivation could also affect you physically. People suffering from lack of sleep are much more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, which could lead to heart problems, and could even cause a stroke. Complications during pregnancy can also occur.
Body weight also has a tendency to rapidly change when severely deprived of sleep. You wouldn’t feel like exercising so your health and fitness will no doubt take a turn for the worse. Research has shown that a lack of sleep makes you feel less full after a meal, which could inadvertently lead to over-eating.
Sleep deprivation has also been shown to impact the speed of the body being able to heal wounds. The immune system has also been shown to be suppressed with lack of sleep, giving you a greater chance of suffering from a nasty virus on top of your sleep deprivation effects.
Sleep Deprivation Effects on Relationships
It’s not just you that your lack of sleep affects, it affects everyone around you. Sleep deprivation can truly test a relationship, especially if your messed up sleeping pattern disturbs your partner’s sleep. You’re certainly not going to be your happy, normal self with no sleep.
You wouldn’t be in the mood for socialising either. Even if you tried you wouldn’t be your normal self. If you have children, your sleep deprivation can affect your relationship with them too.
Working relationships would also be strained. You’d have much less patience for your work colleges and your ability to negotiate and compromise would be impacted.
Even Worse Effects of Sleep Deprivation
We’ve looked at some pretty serious effects of sleep deprivation but there’s one even more serious than all the above – death. Rats deprived of sleep die after 3 weeks or 5 weeks if deprived from just REM sleep.
Humans too suffer the same fate without sleep, as seen in the very rare condition Fatal Familial Insomnia.
Are there any lasting effects of sleep deprivation?
Ok, so that’s all pretty extreme, but are there any lasting effects of insomnia? Does anything major happen to your body after staying awake for so long?
Lasting effects of short term sleep deprivation
People have actually competed to stay awake the longest in a attempt to break the world record. There was once a Guinness World Record for staying awake.
Randy Gardener holds the scientifically documented record for staying awake the longest at 264 hours, 11 days. While performing the stunt, he experienced many of the effects of sleep deprivation noted above. On the 4th day he mistook a street sign for a person and on the 11th day, when asked to subtract 7 repeatedly from 100, he stopped at 65 because he forgot what he was doing.
After completing the record, Randy’s recovery was closely monitored by scientists to check for any lasting effects. He slept a full 14 hours and 40 minutes, waking naturally around 10pm. He then stayed awake for 24 hours and then slept a normal 8 hours. He soon returned to his normal sleep pattern and suffered no lasting effects staying awake for so long.
Many people claim to have beaten Randy’s time, but sleep deprivation records are no longer accepted. Other than the risk of harm to themselves and others, participants need to be closely monitored since if they slip into the first stage of sleep for a few moments, they might not even know they had just fallen asleep.
Lasting effects of long term sleep deprivation
That’s an extreme case or short term sleep deprivation, what about long term? What if you suffered from sleep deprivation for months or even years? Recent research has shown that getting less than 6 hours sleep dramatically affect the body, altering over 700 genes. These genetic alterations have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and poor brain function.
But it’s clear that sleep deprivation not only impacts our mood, our mental performance, and our relationships, it also puts us at risk of a range of medical conditions. It’s in a nutshell, sleep is crucial to the body. For a full list of ways sleep deprivation can affect you, see the infographic dangers of sleep deprivation.