How Is Sleep Deprivation Defined and What Does it Mean?

Sleep deprivation is a condition of not getting adequate sleep to feel rested and refreshed. This can be a one-off event or a chronic sleep disorder. Healthy sleep is vital to maintaining good physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation has many causes and equally as many treatments so there are a lot of options to help you regain quality sleep tonight.  

Sleep deprivation is the inability to sleep when your mind and body signal you to

What Is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is the inability to sleep when your mind and body signal you to. You could be lying in bed staring at the ceiling for hours, you may be traveling and unable to sleep, or you may have bouts of insomnia where your sleep is interrupted by bouts of wakefulness. A prolonged lack of sleep even for a few days is enough to have a detrimental effect on your cognitive abilities, mood, health, and learning skills.   

What Causes Sleep Deprivation? 

Sleep disorders are caused by many different factors. Stress is a major cause of sleep deprivation and puts you in a vicious circle of worry and insomnia that damages your health. You could be on a new medication, have a hormonal imbalance, be jet-lagged, or be sleeping in a new environment. Certain health issues such as depression, chronic pain syndrome, schizophrenia, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease are known to cause sleep disorders.    

Sleep Deprivation Effects on Physical and Mental Health

The effects of sleep deprivation on physical health and mental well-being are catastrophic. Insufficient hours of sleep and quality rest can be linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression cause sleep deprivation which in turn exacerbates symptoms further.

Important processes take place as you sleep. Memories are cataloged and stored, energy is replenished, muscles are repaired, and your immune system is boosted. Good quality REM sleep is essential to maintaining good physical and mental health. Sleep can help you heal from illness as you allow your body to rest and your immune system can do its job.     

The Connection Between how Much you Sleep and Your Mood

The effects of sleep deprivation for even one night can be obvious to those around you. You may be short-tempered with loved ones and feel sad and stressed. Your cognitive abilities may not be as quick as usual, you may have a hard time concentrating on tasks, learning anything new may be impossible when getting through a day without healthy sleep. Anxiety can be the mood of the day when dealing with the effects of sleep deprivation

A University of Pennsylvania study found that those who get by on just 4.5 hours of sleep per night for just one week suffered from mental and physical exhaustion, anger, anxiety, and sadness. When the subjects returned to their normal healthy sleep routine, the negative effects of sleep deprivation vanished and good mood resumed.   

The Most Common Causes of Sleep Deprivation 

Sleep Disorders 

Sleep disorders are an obvious explanation for sleep deprivation. Insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea are major culprits of loss of sleep. Sleep disorders have many treatments both holistic and medicinal. Speak to your doctor for a suitable diagnosis and treatment plan.  


Illness can cause a disruption to your sleep wake cycle that is counterintuitive as sleep is an essential component of healing. Schizophrenia, cancer, Alzheimer disease, chronic pain syndrome, and depression is known to heighten sleep disorders thus aggravating symptoms further. 

Experiencing Sleep Deprivation? You Are Not Alone

Sleep deprivation is, unfortunately, a chronic condition in the U.S. with one in three Americans getting less than seven hours of sleep per night. Not getting enough sleep each night has an increased risk of drowsy driving. Jobs that cause sleep restriction such as long haul drivers will benefit from plenty of rest breaks to replenish energy and limit the chance of accidents.  

How Much Sleep Do I Need?


Hours of Recommended Sleep Per Night 

0-3 months 

14-17 hours 

4-11 months

12-15 hours 

1-2 years 

11-14 hours 

3-5 years 

10-13 hours 

6-13 years 

9-11 hours 

14-17 years 

8-10 hours 

18-64 years 

7-9 hours 

65+ years 

7-8 hours 

Sleep Deprivation Treatments  

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that retrains your neural pathways, transmuting negative thought patterns into positive ones. There is a behavioral aspect of CBT that retrains behavior. CBT for sleep deprivation will focus on cleaning up your sleep hygiene routine, your physical sleep environment, and help you deal with any stress you may have around sleep.


Studies showing long term easily achievable routines for improving poor sleep quality always account for the benefits of physical exercise. Circadian rhythms could be reset by implementing a daily fitness routine that is enjoyable and manageable for your schedule. Physical exercise can be a walk in the park, gentle yoga, Thai Chi, or more strenuous strength training, cross country running, or swimming. Exercise greatly improves mood, health, and sleep quality. Those who suffer from insomnia or depression will benefit from physical exercise.  

Sleep Hygiene Solutions

Cleaning up your sleep routine and nightly habits can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer. It is a good practice to wind-down well for one hour before bed. This means putting your cell phone on do not disturb mode, enjoying a hot bath or shower to relax, reading a book or listening to some soothing music, or doing a little gentle yoga to stretch your muscle. Keeping a sleep diary and daily gratitude list can help you combat feelings of anxiety and release any negative emotions or stress you have experienced that day. 

Alternative Therapy  

Alternative therapies to treat sleep disorders include regular massage, acupuncture, acupressure, tai chi, or yoga. These are non-invasive treatments that are natural and avoid the use of prescription medication. The addition of a melatonin supplement to your diet is a natural hormone that could reset your circadian rhythms, melatonin is known as the sleep hormone and alerts your system to prepare for sleep. Valerian tea or supplement coupled with relaxation techniques could be beneficial in helping you manage your sleep disorder.    


When your alternative remedies and relaxation techniques somehow do not work it may be time to try a short-term medicinal strategy. Over-the-counter Benadryl or Unisom may help. If you are suffering greatly from insomnia and you have tried every technique your doctor may prescribe Ambien or Restoril. These medications can have some nasty side effects that leave you feeling groggy and moody upon waking. You may also become addicted to these medications which is not a healthy long term solution. Medication could be a suitable short-term solution as you embark on a new fitness routine or alternative therapy journey. This allows you to pharmaceutically gain rest and replenish the energy that is needed to exercise. Within weeks of a consistent exercise regime, you may not need medication as the physical exercise is enough to help you regain restorative sleep.   


If only we could repay our weekly sleep debt by oversleeping on our days off. Unfortunately, this never works. A total sleep overhaul is needed if you are suffering from weekday insomnia. A sleep study performed at a clinic could offer some insights into your sleep disorder. There are options for home sleep studies but they are not as comprehensive. 

Attention deficit is a major consequence of sleep disorders. Your cognitive abilities diminish from just one night of poor sleep quality. The effects of sleep deprivation can be long term cognitive decline that affects your learning and decision-making abilities. Your mental health could suffer along with your personal relationships as you become irritable and withdrawn. Sleep is vital to a healthy life, healthy body, and healthy mind. It can be achieved by learning to manage stress, achieving a healthy work/life balance, and having more fun. Now, who can say no to that? 

Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a chronic sleep disorder that has a knock-on effect on physical and mental health. Just one night of poor sleep quality is enough to put you on a slippery slope to diabetes, heart disease, increased blood pressure, and obesity. Prolonged sleep deprivation could lead to hallucinations, depression, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer's disease. 

How Long Can You Go Without Sleep?

Prolonged sleep deprivation is incredibly unhealthy but there are times when the odd night of disturbed sleep will not hurt. When traveling, studying, finishing a big project sleep can evade you. If you go more than 3 days without sleep you will hallucinate and become angry at those around you, your immune response will diminish along with your cognitive abilities.  

Is Sleeping All Day a Way to Overcome Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation can only be combated with behavioral and mental changes. A sleep debt can not be repaid by sleeping all day. Although it may feel good, you will be right back where you started when you are sleep-deprived again. Cleaning up your sleep hygiene, exercise, and managing stress are healthy ways of managing sleep disorders.  

The Long-Term Mental and Emotional Effects of Sleep Deprivation

A prolonged lack of sleep has some profound effects on the brain and mental wellbeing. Psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia are all linked to sleep disorders. Emotional health suffers greatly when extremely tired, you become short-tempered, sad, unable to concentrate, and miserable. Implementing healthy sleep strategies can help you regain quality sleep.