Sleep Deprivation: How Much Do You Really Know About It?

miss-sleepNearly everyone has been sleep deprived at some point. Maybe you were out late, so you dragged at work the next day, or perhaps you were cramming for finals while also working a full time job. Of course, new parents often learn really quickly what it is like to be sleep deprived.

There are also many people who live in a constant state of sleep deprivation, such as those who snore, as well as individuals diagnosed with sleep apnea. However, few people fully understand just how harmful sleep deprivation is to immediate and long-term health.

What is Sleep Deprivation?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders that deprive them of sleep. This is not even considering the rest of the planet! As part of a survey it was also revealed that between 7 and 19 percent of adults report not getting nearly enough sleep every day.

As the name implies, sleep deprivation is a condition resulted from not getting enough sleep. However, this is a very broad concept, because there are a few different ways you can be deprived, yet the symptoms and effects remain the same. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states that you can suffer from this condition, if:

  • You sleep at an odd time of the day that throws you off-sync from your natural clock. This is commonly seen in third and swing-shift workers.
  • You do not get the amount of sleep you need for your body to recharge.
  • You do not sleep sound, so your body does not get the deep sleep it needs in 3, 4, or REM sleep stages.
  • You have a disorder that causes poor sleep quality.

To better understand sleep deficiency it is helpful to learn why sleep is so important. There are two types of sleep: REM and non-REM. The REM is an acronym for rapid eye movement.

Non-REM and REM sleep typically follow a pattern and complete three to five cycles in an average night. The non-REM sleep stage is also known as slow wave or deep sleep. REM is the stage where dreaming generally occurs.

The number of full sleep stage cycles that you get in a night dictates your ability to function while awake. You have a natural internal clock that follows a 24-hour repeating rhythm referred to as the circadian rhythm. This rhythm literally affects every organ, tissue, and cell in your body. It is controlled by the interaction of two processes.

  • Pressure – The pressure to sleep builds continuously every hour you are awake until it peaks in the evening. A compound called adenosine is linked to the drive to sleep. While awake, adenosine levels in your brain constantly rise. The compound’s increased level signals your body to shift toward sleep. While sleeping, your body breaks the compound down.
  • Clock – The second process involves the natural clock within every person. This clock is in sync with environmental cues, such as sunlight and darkness. When darkness falls your body naturally releases melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel drowsy. Melatonin levels in your bloodstream peak as the evening progresses. When the sun rises, your body produces cortisol, a different hormone that prepares you to wake up.

If you snore and your body’s sleep cycle is interrupted through the night, it throws your internal clock off. Think of it as if you are writing a research paper and you are interrupted several times in a row. With each occurrence you lose your train of thought. You may remember exactly what you were writing the second and third time, but as the interruptions continue, your thoughts are compromised and so is your work. This is how sleep deprivation from snoring affects your internal clock and ability to function. This does not only include alertness the next day either. This also affects your immune system’s ability to do its job of keeping you healthy.


Many people joke about their snoring, assuming that it is nothing more than an annoying sound that others complain about. Few understand its deprivation effect on the human body, and even fewer are educated about the extensive adverse health effects that come along with this deprivation.

1. Brain and Cognitive Function

San Diego’s Veteran’s Affairs Healthcare System teamed up with the USCD School of Medicine to determine how brain and cognitive functions are affected by sleep deprivation. The study revealed that portions of the prefrontal cortex displayed significantly more activity in sleepier individuals. This portion of the brain supports mental faculties, including memory and practical and logical reasoning. Simply put, the brain of a sleep deprived subject had to work harder than a well-rested one.

MRI scans reveal that sleep deprivation can be linked to psychosis, bipolar disorder, and the inability to make a controlled and suitable response to a decision or situation.

2. Working Memory

Although there are numerous physical consequences resulted from deprivation, deficits in working memory and attention are some of the most significant. Attention involves simple tasks, such as forgetting to put laundry soap in the washing machine or missing sentences while taking notes in a meeting. However, working memory involves choice reaction time tasks, such as response to situations that could result in industrial disasters and car crashes.

Researchers generally use a psychomotor vigilance task to measure the effects of sleep deprivation on working memory. Not only do sleep deprived subjects score poorly, they tend to be confident that they are able to perform tasks requiring constant attention, but do not realize how impaired their abilities actually are.

Driving Ability Impairment

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that one in every five serious vehicle-related injuries is related to fatigue drivers. It is also reported that nearly 250,000 accidents are sleep-related, and at least 80,000 drivers fall asleep at the wheel every day. After your second or third cup of coffee do you ever realize that you really do not remember the actual drive to work earlier? Your brain was foggy and you might even say you were half asleep. This could apply to driving home from work on a late shift, as well. Not only is this dangerous for you, your actions ultimately affect every other driver on the road around you.

3. Obesity

Sleep loss disturbs endocrine regulation of energy homeostasis. This is just a fancy medical term that means it can lead to weight gain and obesity, which in return can lead to countless other health complications.

One night of restless sleep exerts effects on your energy expenditure, but enhances hedonic stimulus processing, which is the brain’s underlying drive to eat.

4. Diabetes

In 2005, a study was performed on more than 1,400 participants. It revealed that individuals who were habitually sleep deprived were more likely to be associated with type 2 diabetes. Cause and effect is uncertain, but it was suggested that impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) was to blame. This is the pre-diabetic state of hyperglycemia, and is associated with insulin resistance.

5. Physiological and Health Effects

General sleep deprivation can cause depression, hallucinations, malaise, hand tremors, eye bags, aching muscles, irritability, seizures, yawning, mania, and increased blood pressure and hormone levels. Chronic sleep deprivation can be associated with a number of medial illnesses. Diabetes was already mentioned, but a few more include heart failure, heart attack, stroke, and attention deficit disorder.

The Link Between Snoring and Sleep Deprivation

If you are on the fence about purchasing a mouthpiece to stop snoring it is important to understand that snoring does indeed rob your body of the precious sleep it needs to function. You may not realize it, but your snoring is likely due to an obstruction in the airway. Now, if you are like most others, you hear the word “obstruction” and think of a piece of candy, gum, etc. In all actuality it is your own body tissues that cause this obstruction.

When you sleep, all the muscles in your body relax. This allows your jaw and tongue to fall back toward your throat. In this position, tissues of your throat and soft palate are positioned close enough together that the air passing through causes a vibration. This may seem harmless, but what you need to understand is that your body is now fighting to get the oxygen it needs all night to survive. This makes it nearly impossible for the brain to rest. Therefore, the sleep cycle is constantly interrupted and your body is robbed of 3, 4, and REM sleep stages I talked about earlier.

Plus, snoring is often a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, which forces the brain to remain working all night, so it can wake your body up, if airflow is completely blocked.

Snoring is not a laughing matter, and neither is sleep deprivation. They both take a toll on your health and well-being. An act as simple as wearing a mouthpiece while you sleep could be all that is standing between you and a night of quality rest.