Sleep is a big part of our lives. We spend a third of our lives asleep. Even when we’re not sleeping, the amount and quality of sleep we get in the night plays a big role in our day to day performance and ultimately, overall quality of life.
We covered what happens when we sleep in the Why do we Sleep article, but what happens when we don’t get enough sleep? Can anything bad really happen?
In this article we’ll discover how sleep deprivation affects your day to day performance and determine whether a lack of sleep can cause any lasting effects.
What are the effects of sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation has some very wide ranging effects. Here we’ll look at them in 4 areas; psychological, performance, physical and social.
For this we’ll use our resident guinea pig, Fred. Fred hasn’t slept well for about a week now. So how’s he doing?
Effects on Mindset
One of the first things Fred would notice is his change of mood. Everything will start to get on his nerves, even the slightest things. He’ll feel very irritable with day to day tasks. If this continues, he many soon feel unable to cope with life’s challenges, which could in turn lead to depression. Fred is usually a calm, friendly person, but he may suffer from doses of aggression.
As it gets worse he might experience hallucinations. As a teenager experiencing lack of sleep I remember seeing the road in front of me ungulate up and down like the ocean as I waited for my school bus. That was fairly tame, but they can get much worse with time.
Severe cases can create confusion, paranoia and even complete shifts in personality.
Sleep deprivation will effect Fred’s performance big time. He’ll be feeling exhausted so he wouldn’t feel like doing anything. Even if he did, he would have a much harder time going about it. He’ll find it harder to concentrate, focus and pay attention to his work. His creativity and abstract thinking would also be heavily impacted. He’ll become clumsy and his decision making would be very poor, and bad decisions could lead to problems in the future. Staying alert would be very hard. His personal productivity would be completely destroyed.
In short, his performance and mental ability would pretty much slump. This can have horrific implications for his career, especially if he held a position of key responsibility. In many careers, just one little mistake could lead to one major mess landing him in the firing line.
It can have devastating effects on children too. Just like adult’s careers, children need to be at the top of their game to succeed at school. I remember a time at school where I had an illness and was having trouble sleeping at night because of it. Unfortunately, at the same time we had to take examinations to decide which classes we would be put into at our new high school. Needless to say, I was put in the bottom sets for almost all my classes, even the ones I was once top. It took me 3 years to work my way up from the bottom classes to the top classes. Thankfully I had time to recover my grades. But if the same had happened during my high school exams, I don’t know where I would be!
And that’s not all. Long term sleep deprivation could also effect fred physically. People suffering from lack of sleep are much more likely to suffer from high blood pressure which could lead to heart problems and could even cause a stroke. Complications during pregnancy may also occur, although thankfully Fred doesn’t have to deal with that.
Body weight also has a tendency to rapidly change when severely deprived of sleep. He’ll not exactly want to get out and about so his health and fitness will no doubt take a turn for the worse.
Sleep deprivation has also been shown to impact the speed of the body being able to heal wounds. The immune system has also been shown to be suppressed with lack of sleep giving him a greater chance of suffering from a nasty virus on top of his sleep deprivation affects.
Effects on Relationships
It’s not just him his lack of sleep effects, it effects everyone around him. Sleep deprivation can truly test a relationship, especially if his messed up sleeping pattern disturbs his partners sleep. He’s certainly not going to be his happy normal self with no sleep, so he’ll inevitably perform less well as a parent, which could effect his children.
He wouldn’t be in the mood for socialising either. Even if he tried he wouldn’t be his normal self.
Working relationships would also be strained. He would have much less patience for his colleges and would have a reduced ability to negotiate and compromise.
We’ve looked at some pretty serious effects of sleep deprivation but there’s one even more serious than all the above – death. Rats deprived of sleep die after 3 weeks or 5 weeks if deprived from just REM sleep.
Humans too suffer the same fate without sleep, as seen in the very rare condition, Fatal Familial Insomnia.
Are there any lasting effects of sleep deprivation?
Ok, so that’s all pretty extreme, but are there any lasting effects of insomnia? What happens to you after staying awake for so long.
Well people have actually competed to stay awake the longest in a attempt to break the world record. There was once a Guinness World Record for staying awake.
Randy Gardener holds the scientifically documented record for staying awake the longest at 264 hours, 11 days. While performing the stunt, he experienced many of the effects of sleep deprivation noted above. On the 4th day he mistook a street sign for a person and on the 11th day, when asked to subtract 7 repeatedly from 100, he stopped at 65 because he forgot what he was doing.
After completing the record, Randy’s recovery was closely monitored by scientists to check for any lasting effects. He slept a full 14 hours and 40 minutes, waking naturally around 10pm. He then stayed awake for 24 hours and then slept a normal 8 hours.
He soon returned to his normal sleep pattern and suffered no lasting effects staying awake for so long.
Many people claim to have beaten Randy’s time, but sleep deprivation records are no longer accepted. Other than the risk of harm to themselves and others, participants need to be closely monitored since if they slip into the first stage of sleep for a few moments, they might not even know they had just fallen asleep.
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A lack of sleep can cause you a range of issues. When you’re suffering from sleep deprivation you feel like death. Iit feels like the whole world is caving in on you. I should know, I’ve had more than my fair share of sleep deprivations! But after a good nights sleep, all is well. Sure you have the aftermath to clear up, but you’re cured from all those effects.