Sleep deprivation symptoms – is this you?

Sleep deprivation symptoms - is this you?

How often do you feel tired during the day? Sometimes you might not even realise that tired is what you actually feel. You might just feel strange, hungry, restless, unhappy, or any one ore more of a number of other symptoms of sleep deprivation. People may tell you that you look tired, and it may comes as a surprise, but a quick look in the mirror often confirms that they are right. Now you come to think about it, is it something that happens quite often?

Seven (hours sleep) is the magic number

You may not even realise you are sleep-deprived. However, if like many people, you are getting less than seven hours sleep a night, then you will be at risk of suffering from the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Why do we need to get at least seven hours sleep each night? It’s because that’s the level of sleep below which physiological and neurobehavioral deficits start to appear, and become progressively worse the longer this sleep deprivation goes on.

Sleep deprivation is a recognised medical condition

Chronic sleep restriction is medically recognised and can lead to a clinical diagnosis of insufficient sleep syndrome. The occasional bad night’s sleep can cause acute symptoms of sleep deprivation but things go back to normal fairly quickly and easily after a good night’s sleep. Chronic long term sleep deprivation leads to long term problems that develop progressively over time, and these problems take a longer period of adequate sleep to enable us to recover.

Some symptoms and health problems resulting from sleep deprivation

Overeating leading to obesity

Getting insufficient sleep has been shown to increase your appetite, making you eat more, together with increased feelings of hunger associated with the metabolic changes resulting from sleep deprivation. Combine this with the easy availability of food in most industrialised countries, plus the physical inactivity of many people at work, and there is a real danger that we can become obese. In addition, the types of food we are likely to want to eat would be sweet, fatty, comfort-type food, which we all know isn’t good for us. With enough sleep we are more likely to resist the temptation. With a lack of sleep we won’t care and just want to eat because we feel (not think) it might make us feel better.

Heart disease

People who don’t get enough sleep are also at risk of developing heart disease. Sleep deprivation can lead to high blood pressure, increase blood cholesterol levels, and make us more likely to be obese and suffer from type 2 diabetes. These are all factors that increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis, where fatty deposits in the walls of our arteries obstruct blood flow and potentially causing us to have a heart attack or a stroke.


Sleep deprivation has been implicated in the development of various types of cancer. For example, lack of sleep has been associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer. Demonstrating the protective effects of increased sleep duration, women who sleep for longer, more than 9 hours per night have been shown to have a decreased risk of developing breast cancer.

Accidents and injury

You are more likely to make mistakes leading to human error-related accidents when you have been deprived of sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to impaired concentration and control of our movements that are similar to what happens to us when we drink alcohol. This puts us at increased risk of motor accidents and accidents at work, and the fact that we are “just a bit tired” means we may not be aware of the increased risks we are taking.

This outline of the symptoms and effects of sleep deprivation is all backed-up by published psychological and medical research.

I must stop watching “The Walking Dead” before I become one of them

I’m still looking into the effects of sleep deprivation and I’ll add more to this list as I learn more. However, it’s pretty clear that lack of sleep can have more serious effects than just making us feel a bit tired and miserable. Tonight, when I’m thinking about watching one more episode of “The Walking Dead” from my box set, I’m going to think again. I’m going to think that going to bed instead is a better option, and while it may not make me wealthy or wise, it will definitely help me stay healthy.

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