Ten Deadly Effects of Sleep Deprivation

These last few days had been very exhausting for me. It is the start of the semester and loads of paper works and student queries must be attended to. At night, I must work on my online activities. It is always past midnight, around one or two, that I sleep.  And by six, I must be up and get ready for school… This is not my normal routine and getting four to five hours of sleep worries me. I might acquire permanent sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation, which may be acute or chronic, is the condition of not having enough sleep. I search for the social and health effects of sleep deprivation and I was dumbstruck by how fatal it can be. Well, here are the ten deadly effects of sleep deprivation:

1. Extreme exhaustion. In slang terms, you are super tired. This is the first direct effect of sleep deprivation. This is not the usual tiring feeling, but you are highly lethargic that you would not want to do anything. You lack enough energy that eventually affects your efficiency and productivity. Individuals who have not received sufficient sleep will feel sluggish and uninspired to work.

2. Impaired coordination. A lack of sleep is often associated with a hindrance of bodily control. Tired individuals often feel enhanced physical impulses; yet, actions are uncoordinated and responses are slow and untimed. The negative effects of sleep deprivation on alertness and cognitive performance suggest decreases in brain activity and function, primarily in the thalamus – the structure involved in alertness and attention – and in the prefrontal cortex, a region sub-serving alertness, attention, and higher-order cognitive processes.

Sleep-deprived individuals also experience extreme emotions and mood swings. A very tired person who is laughing uncontrollably at one moment may be crying or yelling angrily a few minutes later.

3. Microsleep. This is one of the most dangerous immediate effects of sleep deprivation. In this condition, the brain suddenly shuts down and the person falls into sleep for a period of a second to about half a minute. The sad fact is that the person falls asleep no matter activity he or she is engaged in. Just imagine yourself in this condition and how discomforting it is to you and distracting to others. Microsleep is similar to blackout, and a person experiencing it is not consciously aware that it is occurring.

4. Attention and working memory. If you are sleep-deprived, your attention is also affected as well as your working memory. You tend to be easily confused, have lapses in judgment, lose focus and easily forget things. You may miss a schedule, forget where you put things, and as much as forget what you have just said. Worse, sleep-deprived individuals may believe that they are able to perform tasks that require constant attention when their abilities are in fact impaired.

5. Weight changes. Sleep deprivation either increases or reduces weight, but more on the former. This is because the amount and quality of sleep affects hormone levels, particularly levels of leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is a hormone that affects feelings of fullness and satisfaction after a meal, while ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite. When people suffer from sleep deprivation, levels of leptin fall and ghrelin levels increase. This means that people end up feeling hungrier and may be less satisfied by eating, causing them to eat more and, consequently, gain weight. Other physiological processes are affected by these hormone levels and this relationship further complicates the connection between sleep and health.

6. Impaired performance.  A 2006 study has shown that while total sleep deprivation for one night caused many errors, the errors were not significant until after the second night of total sleep deprivation. In addition, another study showed that performance starts to degrade after 16 hours of being awake. With sleep deprivation, expect a negative impact on the performance in professional field or workplace. In younger ages, it also has significant effects. Studies have shown that adolescents who experience less sleep show a decreased willingness to engage in sports and other activities requiring motor skills and coordination, and attention to details. Another effect is that it causes a range of schooling problems, including naughtiness and poor concentration.

7. Mental illnesses. In 2001, a research at Chicago Medical Institute showed that sleep deprivation can be associated with psychosis, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses. In 2007, the association between sleep deprivation and psychosis was further documented by a study at Harvard Medical School and the University of California at Berkeley. MRI scan revealed that “sleep deprivation causes the brain to become incapable of putting an emotional event into the proper perspective and incapable of making a controlled, suitable response to the event”. Furthermore, great sleep deprivation mimics psychosis: distorted perceptions can lead to inappropriate emotional and behavioral responses.

8. Accidents. Many vehicular accidents have been attributed to sleep deprivation. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), one in every five serious motor vehicle injuries is linked to driver fatigue. Every day, around 80,000 drivers fall asleep behind the wheel; every year, around 250,000 accidents are related to sleep. The AASM recommends pulling off the road and taking a 15- or 20-minute nap to alleviate drowsiness. Moreover, the National Sleep Foundation (USA) identifies several warning signs that a driver is dangerously fatigued, including rolling down the window, turning up the radio, trouble keeping eyes open, head-nodding, drifting out of the lane, and daydreaming.

In 2000, a study conducted in Australia and New Zealand reported that being sleep-deprived is as good as being drunk for they lead to the same deadly effects. People who drove after being awake for 17–19 hours performed worse than those with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent, which is the legal limit for drunk driving in most western European countries and Australia. Hence, driving after long hours of no-sleep activity could be just as dangerous as drunk-driving.

A plane crash in 2009 at Buffalo, New York was partly attributed to pilot fatigue. The accident had cost 50 lives.

9. Diabetes. A 2005 study of 1400 participants have shown that people who sleep for fewer hours are more likely to have associations with type 2 diabetes. This type of diabetes results when cells fail to use insulin property (while type 1 is the condition when body fails to produce insulin). Moreover, the researcher also pointed out that “experimental rather than habitual restriction of sleep resulted in impaired glucose tolerance (IGT)”.

10. Risk to the immune system and heart. Lacking enough hours of sleep significantly impairs anybody’s immune system. In effect, the individual readily gets ill. Sleep deprivation is also linked to increase blood pressure and hypertension. Consequently, it puts anyone to the risk of contacting heart diseases.

Other effects. Other conditions which are associated with sleep deprivation are: hernia, muscle fascia tears, muscle pains, hallucinations, depression, hand tremors, headaches, sensitivity to cold and bloodshot eyes. Hong Kong University researchers recently found that sleep deprivation may lead to ulcers and even cancer.

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