7 Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

The American Sleep Association says that 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep disorders, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention calls sleep deprivation a national epidemic. Although adolescents are thought to be at greatest risk, the lack of sleep is a threat to all ages. In addition to common symptoms like fatigue and daytime sleepiness, sleep deprivation increases the risk of disease and depression, affects thoughts and emotions, and raises accident levels.

Experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep each night for adults, eight to ten for teens, and nine to eleven hours for school-aged children. For people who think they function well with less, Dr. Irina Gendler, MD, from Troy Primary Care Physicians in Ohio explains: “Our brain is trained to respond to change, and it will quit sending messages to the body that it is exhausted because that is already old news.” An occasional night without sleep makes a person feel tired and irritable the next day, but it does not cause lasting damage. After a few nights, it becomes hard to focus and make decisions. If it continues, the lack of sleep has longlasting effects on general health and well-being, and health symptoms occur.

1. Sleepiness

Everybody feels sleepy at times, but sleeplessness becomes a problem when it affects a person’s ability to function safely and efficiently in daily life. Signs include the following: difficulty staying awake while driving, reading, or watching TV; slow reactions; memory problems; and a need for daytime naps. Sleepiness can be caused by a disruption of natural sleep cycles, inadequate sleep, or a sleep disorder.

Certain medications and shift work can also make it hard to get enough sleep. Afternoon naps, late-day exercise, and erratic schedules are major causes of sleeplessness, and so is exposure to electronic devices, like computers and cellphones, that give off blue light. Although sleep is not entirely understood, sleep researchers know that everyone goes through three repetitive sleep cycles, followed by REM sleep, or rapid eye movement, at night. In the third cycle, the body heals, repairs itself, burns fat, and builds muscle. If the sleep cycle is shortened to less than seven to nine hours per night, the body and mind cannot restore itself, and daytime sleepiness results. This is different than excessive sleepiness, which is characterized by the need to sleep more than ten hours per night and is usually caused by a sleep disorder.