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Sleep deprivation: stages and effects

Written by Salma Dawood, Nutritionist BSc

Sleep deprivation effects

When we get a good night’s sleep every day, we are refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to tackle on the day. Sleep is an essential indicator of overall well-being. It is so important, that we spend around 1/3 of our lives asleep.

However, it can be difficult to achieve adequate amounts of sleep every night in today’s world. Let’s reverse the equation for a minute. What happens when we don’t sleep enough? Sleep deprivation, also characterized as the ‘modern plague,’ affects more than 70 million Americans, and has become one of the largest public health issues that we face today (1). What are the symptoms and causes of sleep deprivation? What are the main sleep deprivation effects on the body? More importantly, what are the main methods of sleep deprivation treatment?

Read on to find out everything you need to know about sleep deprivation, and how to achieve better sleep every night.

Sleep Deprivation Meaning

Sleep deprivation is defined as inadequate total sleep, and can be chronic or acute. This occurs when you fall short on getting complete sleep cycles, including REM and non-REM sleep. REM sleep (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep occur in a sequence during 3-5 sleep cycles every night. When these sleep cycles are inhibited, the symptoms of sleep deprivation become evident.

Think you are not getting enough shut-eye at night? If you have any of these symptoms, you may be suffering from sleep deprivation:

1) Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue

2) Irritability and mood swings

3) Hunger and weight gain

4) Poor concentration and mental focus

If sleep deprivation is chronic, it may trigger hallucinations, depression, paranoia, and impulsive behavior. 

Sleep deprivation Dangers and Effects

Since sleep is required for vital body functions and restoring chemical balance, sleep deficiency can adversely impact your health in many ways.

1) Cognitive Impairments

Not catching enough sleep every night can cause poor signaling in your central nervous system. Due to changes in our nervous system, the cognitive system is impaired, we may experience increased stress and appetite, and reduced mental focus. These factors can also lead to the development of other chronic illnesses, if sleep deprivation is left untreated.

2) Weakened Immunity

Sleep deprivation - Weakened immunityThe immune system produces substances that fight foreign objects while we sleep, called cytokines. However, when the individual is sleep deprived, the immune system is not as efficient in producing bacteria and virus-fighting substances, initially weakening immunity and increasing the risk of diseases.

3) Diabetes and Obesity

Sleep deprivation is a significant risk factor for obesity and diabetes. This is due to an increased abundance of an appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, which is heavily influenced by sleep. When we have a larger appetite, we are more likely to overeat and snack at night, which may contribute to weight gain and insulin sensitivity. If you find yourself having multiple episodes of midnight snacking, watch out!

4) Cardiovascular Diseases

Sleep plays an essential role in cardiovascular health, by playing a part in regulating blood pressure, inflammation, and blood sugar. Therefore, sleep deprivation may increase your risk of developing cardiovascular illnesses. In fact, a shocking study observed that you are more likely to suffer from a stroke if you have chronic insomnia.

These are only a few of many dangers of sleep deprivation on our health. If you believe that you are suffering from a sleep disorder, it is essential to begin treating it to keep your health in check.

Sleep Deprivation Treatments

Before resorting to drugs, try these simple home remedies and lifestyle changes that can drastically improve your sleep quality:

1) Keep a consistent sleep schedule

Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, to keep your body clock in sync. 

2) Exercise

Regular physical activity provides a ton of health benefits for your body, including promoting deep sleep. Try to exercise in the daytime, to boost energy and relieve stress, and naturally wind down at night.

3) Avoid stimulants

Caffeine and drugs can keep you awake at night, as they block cell receptors that trigger sleep.

4) Control Your Sleep Environment

Sleep in a cool, dark room with a comfortable mattress and pillows. Regulate the temperature of the room to between 65-72 F for the best sleep environment.

5) Use relaxing oils and herbs

Sleep deprivation - LavenderLavender has wonderful sedative properties, and can be used in a variety of ways to promote adequate sleep and keep you relaxed.

6) Magnesium

Magnesium plays a large role in regulating sleep, by having a direct effect on the nervous system. If you are magnesium deficient, try applying magnesium oil to the skin in order to relax the nervous system and help you get enough shut-eye at night.


Sleep deprivation is a serious issue that should not be ignored or taken lightly. If you are a sufferer of a sleep disorder, start implementing lifestyle changes to treat the condition and promote your long-term health and well-being.



(1) Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006.

Sleep deprivation: stages and effects
~ Written by Salma Dawood, Nutritionist BSc


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