Sleep deprivation is a term that describes the cumulative effect of the lack of sleep on the body. Researchers have long known that insomnia resulted in fatigue, drowsiness, accidents, health problems, mood changes, and weight gain or loss. Now they know that sleep deprivation has adverse effects on the brain and cognitive function. Although the complete absence of sleep in humans over long periods of time has not been examined, it led to death in lab studies of animals.

What Causes Sleep Deprivation

  • Poor sleep habits
  • Not having long enough to sleep
  • Sleep disorders like apnea, insomnia, and restless legs syndrome
  • Sleep disorders, like narcolepsy, that affect the brain

How Sleep Deprivation Affects the Body

Research done in 1999 showed that extreme lack of sleep reduced cortisol levels the following day, in addition to making it difficult to adequately regulate body systems, such as immunity, digestion, mood, energy, and sex.

People who are sleep deprived cannot process glucose as efficiently as those who get a full night’s sleep, and that means they are more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes.

Studies of rats who were severely deprived of dream sleep developed sores on their paws, suggesting that lack of sleep can impair immunity.

In 2000, the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in San Diego and the USCD School of Medicine used MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, to monitor brain activity in sleep-deprived individuals while they attempted verbal learning activities. Results showed that lack of sleep impaired their cognitive functioning abilities.

Attention and working memory
The ability to perform tasks that require focus decreases when sleep is deprived, leading not only to careless mistakes in daily life but to serious ones like traffic accidents and work accidents.

With strenuous muscle activity but inadequate rest, issues like cramping occur more often. Over-exertion injuries, such as tears in muscle fascia and hernias, also happen more frequently.

In the extreme case scenario, a psychosis-like state can result from severe sleep deprivation.

The symptoms of sleep deprivation can look like depression, but they can also contribute to a depressed mood. In the short term, sleep deprivation can relieve depression, but the results are temporary.

Results from several studies suggest that the severity of sleep loss is offset by weight gain. Not getting enough sleep increases the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that encourages overeating.

How Sleep Deprivation Is Treated

The goal of sleep therapy is to increase the amount of time spent in restorative sleep. This is usually done by treating the cause of the sleep deprivation. The primary treatment of sleep deprivation is to increase total sleep time, and treating the cause of sleep deprivation usually solves the problem. Insufficient sleep and sleep hygiene may also need to be addressed.

Anyone who is experiencing sleep deprivation should talk to a doctor as soon as possible. If necessary, the doctor will make a referral to a sleep clinic for diagnostic tests that record the body’s movement during sleep.

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