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5 Surprising Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep Deprivation

Check out these strange and unexpected ways that sleep deprivation might be impacting our lives. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

The evidence is piling up….sleep is critical to health and chronic sleep deprivation leads to real problems.  But as the body of research about sleep grows it has helped to expand our understanding of sleep deprivation, both chronic (long-term) and acute (short-term), and the devastating effects it can have on everyday life.   Despite the research and the improved understanding of the consequences, about half the adults in the U.S. continue to get less sleep than they need most of the time.

Past research has established that skipping sleep for a single night comes with an immediate cost.  Simply skipping a few hours of sleep at night can cause decreases in attention span, reaction time, and alertness.  A single night of less than adequate sleep can also lead to memory problems, mood fluctuations, irritability, and overeating.   All of these effects tie back to the one fundamental thing all the advances in research have taught us – sleep is critical to almost everything we do and therefore not getting the sleep we need impacts all areas of our lives.

Earlier this year, a research team shared some preliminary findings with their peers at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.  These preliminary findings show some of the other unusual, strange, and unexpected ways that sleep deprivation might be impacting our lives.


  1. Sleep Goggles

Everyone has heard of beer goggles, but one research team from Hendrix College in Arkansas found that when men were deprived of sleep for 24 hours they rated the attractiveness of females differently than they did when they were not sleep deprived.  Although there did not seem to be a similar effect on women, men rated the least attractive subjects higher when they were sleepy.


  1. Wimp Factor

Another set of findings presented by a team from the Pusan Nation University Yangsan Hospital in South Korea, The University of Sydney and the Komoki Sleep Center in Seoul found that people who only slept a few hours at night had a much lower pain tolerance than when they were well rested.


  1. Sleepy or Not Sleepy

Another presentation, which came from a Harvard Medical School team, found that as people became more sleep deprived, they became less able to gauge how sleep deprived they actually were.  Likewise, another team found that when people are sleep deprived they had difficulties determining how alert they were.  This means that once we lose sleep we also lose the ability to determine whether or not we need sleep and how badly that lost sleep is affecting us.


  1. Less Empathetic

A team from Stockholm University presented initial findings indicating that sleep deprivation seemed to result in people having less empathy for others than they did when they were well rested.   Participants in this study were shown pictures of other people’s hands being pricked with needles and researchers used brain activity to determine empathetic response.


  1. Bad Gamblers

A presentation from a University of Pittsburgh team indicates that sleep deprivation may make people less upset or concerned about losing money, even when gambling.  Participants that were sleep deprived showed less activity in the parts of the brain associated with reward systems when they anticipated losing than those who were well rested.


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