How is the body affected by sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation, either from regularly not allowing enough time for sleep or due to a physical or mental problem that prevents restful sleep, produces noticeable symptoms, including the following:1

  • Feeling drowsy during the day
  • Routinely falling asleep within only 5 minutes of lying down in bed for the night
  • Experiencing "microsleeps," which are very brief episodes of sleep while being awake

Sleep deprivation can noticeably affect people's performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly, and form memories. Sleep deprivation also affects mood, leading to irritability; problems with relationships, especially for children and teenagers; and depression.2 Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.3

Sleep is important for overall health, and inadequate sleep is associated with numerous health problems. Research shows that not getting enough sleep, or getting poor-quality sleep, increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.2,4,5,6

Sleep deprivation can also be very dangerous. Sleep-deprived people who were tested using a driving simulator or performing hand-eye coordination tasks did as badly as, or worse than, people who were intoxicated.7 Drowsy driving causes thousands of car crashes each year, some of them fatal.8

Sleep deprivation magnifies the effect of alcohol on the body. A fatigued person who drinks will be more impaired than a well-rested person.1

  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2007). How much sleep do we need? In Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Retrieved May 29, 2012 from
  2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2009). At-a-glance: Healthy sleep. Retrieved May 30, 2012, from (PDF - 1.81 MB)
  3. Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L. , Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., &  Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep deprivation in adolescents and adults: Changes in affect. Emotion, 10, 831-841.
  4. Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T., & Mignot, E. (2004). Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Medicine, 1(3), 210-217.
  5. Gangwisch, J. E., Malaspina, D., Boden-Albala, B., & Heymsfield, S. B. (2005). Inadequate sleep as a risk factor for obesity: Analyses of the NHANES I. Sleep, 28, 1289-1296.
  6. Spiegel, K., Knutson, K., Leproult, R., Tasali, E., & Van Cauter, E. (2005). Sleep loss: A novel risk factor for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Journal of Applied Physiology, 99, 2008-2019.
  7. Williamson, A. M., & Feyer, A. M. (2000). Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(10), 649-655.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013, March 4). Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. Retrieved March 21, 2013, from

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