What is Sleep Deprivation?

Kelsey Davis Wellness, Fitness, and Nutrition

What is Sleep Deprivation?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans are the only mammals that delay their need for sleep. How great would it be to drop what you’re doing for a quick snooze? Society is constantly pushing the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, but the importance of a good night’s sleep is often overlooked. What is sleep deprivation? What are the symptoms, causes, effects, and treatments? Understanding what our bodies need is the first step to living a healthy lifestyle.

Physical Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

If you are sleep deprived, you become a risk to yourself and others. Did you know someone who hasn’t slept in 24 hours has the equivalent of a 0.1 alcohol blood content level? It’s important to understand the symptoms of sleep deprivation early so you can prevent more severe effects. Here is a list of the top physical symptoms of sleep deprivation:

Constant yawning

Everyone yawns in the morning when they’re waking up and sometimes later in the afternoon. However, be aware if you are constantly yawning even after your body should be awake.

Dozing off when inactive

Are you falling asleep while watching television? Be cautious if you are dozing off while relaxing or being inactive. Also, it should take you between 10-15 minutes to fall asleep. If you can fall asleep in less than five minutes then you are likely sleep deprived.


The official term for grogginess is sleep inertia. If you have sleep inertia you will feel drowsy. Essentially, your brain is still warming up for the day. Be cautious if you are feeling groggy for long periods of time or nearly every morning.

Poor concentration

Once the morning is started, do you struggle to concentrate? Are you easily distracted while driving? Poor concentration is a key symptom of sleep deprivation.

Mood changes

Your mood can be affected by many different things in your life, the amount of sleep included. The phrase “woke up on the wrong side of the bed” certainly applies when you are sleep deprived.

Sleep Deprivation Effects on the Body

If you choose to ignore the symptoms and early warning signs of sleep deprivation, more drastic effects can harm your body. While we sleep, our body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Not getting enough sleep can prevent this from happening. Sleep deprivation can have the following effects:

High blood pressure

Less than five hours of sleep a night can drastically increase your risk of high blood pressure. The sleep cycle is the body’s time to unwind and relax. Without it, your blood pressure will continue to rise.

Weight gain

Overeating is common for people who are sleep deprived. Receptors in our brain are responsible for signaling that we are full. If you are sleep deprived, the chemicals in your brain are off balance and you can easily overeat. This can quickly lead to weight gain, especially without the recommended daily amount of exercise.

Weak immune system

If you are sleep deprived, your chances of getting sick are significantly higher. Your immune system weakens when you don’t get enough rest. Small viruses, like the common cold, can strike when you least expect it.


If you are not getting enough sleep, your body’s insulin production is compromised. Sleep deprivation can lead to high blood sugar levels which then leads to diabetes.

Heart disease

Sleep deprivation goes hand-in-hand with high blood pressure which leads to higher levels of inflammation. Blood pressure and inflammation play a large role in heart disease.

Sleep Deprivation Causes

The symptoms and side effects associated with sleep deprivation are far from desirable. Understanding what causes sleep deprivation is essential to lower the risk of these symptoms. The most common causes of sleep deprivation are as follows:


Most people understand the importance of a healthy diet and daily exercise, but many overlook the importance of sleep. If you are unaware of the health impacts, then you may be unable to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms and side effects.


Certain illnesses, like the common cold, can cause snoring or the inability to sleep for long periods. This is a very common cause of sleep deprivation. This is why resting when you are sick is important.

Work or travel

If your work requires you to work shifts at varying times of the day, you may struggle to adjust to a healthy sleep schedule. Additionally, sleep deprivation is common among travelers. Jet lag and sleep deprivation go hand-in-hand.

Sleep disorders

Sleep apnoea, snoring, and other sleep disorders can make a person wake up numerous times in the night. This can make getting enough rest difficult. If you believe you have a sleep disorder, it is recommended to visit a sleep disorder clinic.


Certain medications can have side effects that make it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Some medications may even cause insomnia.


Your environment directly impacts how well you can sleep. Purchasing the right mattress for your body and making sure your bedroom is the right temperature are two steps you can take.

Poor sleep hygiene

Drinking coffee or smoking close to when you’re about to sleep can dispute your body’s sleep patterns. Your nervous system will be stimulated and sleeping becomes more difficult.

Sleep Deprivation Treatments

There are numerous things you can do to help improve your sleep health. Try going to bed earlier than normal and don’t use your cell phone at least an hour before bed. The light on your phone can stimulate your brain and make it harder to fall asleep. Also, don’t drink any caffeinated beverages in the evening. Practice relaxation techniques to help fall asleep. These can include breathing exercises or purchasing a noise machine. If you are still struggling to get enough sleep, it is recommended to visit a sleep disorder clinic or consult with your primary-care physician.

Get Covered

The average adult needs about eight hours of sleep per night. If you’re a senior and struggling to get a full night of rest, it’s important to visit a doctor. Our partner, Medicare Plan Finder, can help! They work with numerous providers and can help you get a plan specific for your needs and budget. Give them a call at 833-438-3676 or fill out this form to schedule a free, no-obligation appointment.

After studying marketing and design at Butler University, Kelsey joined us to help with social media, content writing, and email marketing. When she's not in the office, you can probably find her watching The Office or designing prints for her Etsy shop! Fun fact: When she was in school, she spent a summer interning in Australia and while there, she swam in the Great Barrier Reef!