Sleep Deprivation and What it Does to Your Body

 Sleep Deprivation and What it Does to Your Body

Sleep deprivation is simply the term used to describe insufficient sleep in a person. You will often notice people get grumpy when they have had little sleep but sleep deprivation can put your body at serious risk.

You will often hear that a person needs around 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night although this will vary depending on the individual needs of a person. We need this sleep so that our bodies can rebuild the muscles we’ve worn down during the day and clean away any harmful plaques and waste that are produced in the brain.

Although it is hard to say exactly how much sleep each individual needs, the National Sleep Foundation has updated its recommended sleep ranges to the following:

  • Newborns (0-3 months) – Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months) – Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years) – Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5) – Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School-age children (6-13) – Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17) – Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25) – Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64) – Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+) – Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

If somebody needs 9 hours in order to feel properly rested then it is very possible that they can become sleep deprived if they only get 8 hours of sleep. Having one night every now and again won’t cause too much of an issue but long-term sleep deprivation can eventually lead to a whole host of health problems, some of which Can be seen in the image below.


Different Types of Sleep Deprivation

It is important to note that there is not just one type of sleep deprivation and can occur for a number of reasons. These include:

  • Sleep Disorder – These include insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome.
  • Aging – People that are 65+ have trouble sleeping because of aging, medication they’re taking, or medical problems they’re experiencing.
  • Illness – Sleep deprivation is common with depression, schizophrenia, chronic pain syndrome, cancer, heart disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Other Factors – Many people experience occasional sleep deprivation for other reasons, including stress, a change in schedule, or a new baby disrupting their sleep schedule.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

If the human body does not get the correct amount of sleep that it needs, it isn’t able to strengthen the immune system and produce the needed cytokines that help to fight infection. This means that it would take the body longer to recover from an illness but also means that there is an increased risk of chronic illness and disease such as any new and advanced respiratory diseases.

Our body weight can also be impacted by a lack of sleep. There are two hormones in the human body that control when we feel hungry and when we feel full (leptin and ghrelin). Our sleep affects the levels of these hormones in our body but it can also cause the release of insulin, leading to a higher risk of type2 diabetes.

Sleep helps the heart vessels to heal and rebuild as well as affecting processes that maintain blood pressure and sugar levels as well as inflammation control. Not sleeping enough increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.


One of the lesser-known effects of sleep deprivation is what is called microsleeps. After reading Craig’s email I decided to look a little more into these and it really surprised me as I hadn’t actually heard of these before.

The scary thing about microsleeps is that they do not only occur in those with long-term sleep deprivation but can also occur in those that stay awake for only one night.

During these, you fall into a kind of mini-snooze that lasts anywhere up to 30 seconds. Your eyes may stay open but you are essentially blind during this time and do not process any information.

The brain goes into a sleep state rapidly and you can’t control it. You may be able to force yourself awake but you will very soon fall into another microsleep. This would be especially dangerous if you were behind the wheel of a vehicle when it happened.

Sleep Deprivation Treatment Without Medication

If you are like me, I hate using medication but lucky for us, there are a number of effective methods that can be used to enhance sleep. These include:

1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple technique that is commonly used to control insomnia, anxiety, and stress. It involves the tightening of one muscle group at a time followed by a relaxation phase with the release of the tension. It doesn’t take up much time to practice progressive muscle relaxation and only requires around 10-20 minutes each day.

It is usually recommended that you tense and relax the muscle groups one at a time starting with the lower extremities and ending with the face, abdomen, and chest. You can practice this technique seated or lying down and the method is as follows:

  1. While inhaling, contract one muscle group for 5-10 seconds, then exhale and suddenly release the tension in that muscle group.
  2. Relax for 10-20 seconds and then move on to the next muscle group.
  3. While releasing the tension, try to focus on the changes you feel when the muscle group is relaxed.
  4. Gradually work your way up the body contracting and relaxing muscle groups.

2. Stimulus Control

Stimulus control is all about controlling your activities before bedtime and the surroundings where you sleep. It is about strengthening the association between the bed and sleep.

A big issue with those that suffer from insomnia is that the bed is no longer a cue for sleep. Anxiety can increase as bedtime approaches as they dread the tossing and turning and feelings of frustration which does nothing when it comes to helping them sleep. Many of those believe that they will never get back to normal sleeping patterns but the truth is, anything that is learned, can be unlearned. Stimulus control corrects this by reducing the amount of time spent awake in bed and making sure that the bed is used only for sleep (and sex).

Before blowing this off you need to understand that this is evidence-based. Clinical studies have been taken and confirm that this technique works better than medication. One way to see how this works is to think about Pavlov’s dogs. If you have never heard of Pavlov’s dogs before, check out the video below before dismissing this method.

As you can see in the video above, what happens is that the dogs start salivating when they saw food because they knew that they were about to be fed. What happens next is that they salivate when hearing a certain sound that they had associated with food. Pavlov soon learned that he could ‘condition’ the dogs to produce saliva by teaching them to associate getting fed with a range of different sounds and objects. If you are still skeptical, you are probably thinking “I am not a dog” but that is completely irrelevant. It is about the theory, not the body. It works EXACTLY the same way for a human as it does for a dog.

Think about an ice-cream truck. When you were a small child you knew nothing about business but if you heard the sound, you knew they carried ice cream, right? And this isn’t just true about food, it works in all areas of our lives. If you think about or see something that has triggered a response in the past, that same response will occur unless you untrain yourself from it.

Remember, the bed is not for reading, it is not for using your phone or computer. It is for sleep.

How to Improve Your Sleep

Well, we have looked at what sleep deprivation and why sleep is important but how can you improve your sleep? Follow the tips below and if you have your own tips you’d like to share, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and we will get them added to the list.

  • Light Exposure – we each have a natural body clock that tells our body when it is time to sleep. It does this by the light of the day. Daily light exposure will most likely help you even if you experience average sleep. At the same time, you want to reduce bright lights in the evenings.
  • Caffeine Consumption – there is nothing wrong with consuming caffeine during the day but it should be avoided later on in the day as it can stop your body from relaxing.
  • Alcohol Consumption – alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring, and disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Daytime Naps – if you have long naps during the day, you can negatively affect your sleep as it confuses your natural body clock.
  • Keep it Consistent – try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Supplements – there are several supplements that can help you to relax and sleep including ginkgo bilboa, glycine, valerian root, magnesium, L-theanine, and lavender.
  • Get Your Bedroom Sleep Ready – this includes dealing with the temperature, noise (such as traffic), external lights, and furniture arrangement. Your bedroom should be quiet, relaxing, and clean. Try to keep the temperature at around 70°F (20°C).
  • Late Night Snacking – it has been found that eating late at night can negatively affect your sleep.
  • Take a Hot Bath – taking a hot bath/shower 90 minutes before bed can improve sleep quality.
  • Exercise but Not Late in the Day – exercise can improve both your health and your sleep. This being said, exercise late in the day could have the opposite effect due to it increasing your alertness and hormones.

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