What Are the Dangers of Sleep Deprivation?


Mar 21, 2024


Because it is National Sleep Awareness Month, there is no better time to discuss the dangers of sleep deprivation and what lack of sleep does to your body and mental health. In a culture where sleep is often deprioritized due to obligations or lifestyle preferences, many Americans suffer from sleep deprivation and may not even know it. 

So, why do we need to sleep? And what can not sleeping mean for our bodies and minds? Getting quality sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being as it is when processes in our body occur that promote proper brain and bodily functions. In short, if you can’t sleep, then you can’t function. You would be surprised how many injuries and accidents we see regularly that were caused by someone simply being overtired. 

A quick look at some of the dangers of sleep deprivation would include:

  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Enhanced stress 
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Mental health problems 
  • Weakened immune system 
  • Slower recovery times from illnesses and injuries

These dangers among others are why the medical care experts at Complete Care are here to explain the dangers of sleep deprivation and its long-term effects on your health. 

Symptoms of sleep deprivation

We’ve all gone to work or school feeling tired, but there is a difference between feeling tired and being sleep-deprived. Sleep deprivation occurs when you are not getting enough of the quality sleep that your body needs and therefore you are unable to function how you normally would — and your brain and body will feel the consequences.

Some common symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Falling asleep when you’re not supposed to
  • Feelings of exhaustion in your body
  • Constant yawning
  • Slowed thinking and reduced attention span
  • Poor memory and retention
  • Increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Changes in mood (irritability, anger, stress, etc.)

Not sleeping can impact your ability to do even the most simple daily tasks or activities, so be sure to get your recommended 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night!

What happens to your body when you don’t get enough sleep?

The effects of sleep deprivation include increased stress, hormonal imbalances, mental health problems, and more. Let’s take a deeper look at what lack of sleep does to your body:

Enhanced stress 

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body enters a state of stress, triggering a domino effect of physiological responses. The “fight or flight” response of your nervous system becomes activated, leading to increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and heightened levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Feeling severely stressed can have negative implications for your health as a whole.

Hormonal imbalances

Quality sleep is vital for producing and regulating your body’s hormones. Sleep deprivation disrupts the balance of important hormones in your body which can have negative health implications. For example, when you’re sleep-deprived, your body becomes less efficient at using insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Mental health problems

Aside from physical effects, sleep deprivation can also have a significant impact on your emotional and mental health. As mentioned earlier, chronic sleep deprivation is associated with increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Because sleep plays a crucial role in regulating mood and emotional stability, when you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to experience negative emotions and have difficulty coping with any stressors. 

What are the dangers of lack of sleep?

Not getting enough sleep can be dangerous for your physical, emotional, and mental health. Deprioritizing your shuteye can make life a lot more difficult, and put you at risk for some scary health issues. Here are some of the most noteworthy dangers of sleep deprivation:

Impaired cognitive function

One of the most immediate dangers of sleep deprivation is impaired cognitive function — in other words, your brain can’t work as it is supposed to. Impaired cognitive function comes with the following risk factors: 

  • Poor or risky decision-making: Lack of sleep can decrease our ability to make sound decisions and evaluate risks accurately, potentially leading to poor choices with serious consequences. In some cases, some sleep-deprived individuals have trouble making decisions at all.
  • Decreased alertness: Sleep-deprived individuals are more likely to experience lapses in attention and struggle to stay focused, increasing the risk of accidents, particularly while driving or operating machinery. Many common injuries in a car accident occur from distracted or tired drivers.
  • Slowed reaction times: Sleep deprivation slows down cognitive processing speed, leading to delayed reactions and decreased coordination. This can increase the risk of accidents and injuries, especially in situations requiring quick reflexes, like when playing sports or reacting in emergencies.
  • Memory problems: Insufficient sleep interferes with our brain’s ability to store memories, impairing both short-term and long-term memory recall. This can negatively impact academic or professional performance and hinder the ability to learn new information.
  • Impaired communication skills: We all know the feeling of struggling to talk and listen when we’re tired. Sleep-deprived individuals may struggle with articulating thoughts, processing information efficiently, and maintaining conversations. 

Weakened immune system

Because sleep plays a crucial role in regulating our immune system which maintains our overall health, sleep deprivation weakens this process, leaving the body vulnerable to a wide range of infections and illnesses. If you’re sleep deprived, you have a higher chance of contracting or developing illnesses such as the cold, the flu, and gastrointestinal infections, as well as more serious conditions like pneumonia and chronic inflammatory diseases.

Slower recovery times

Imagine trying to get through a workout when your body and mind are at peak exhaustion. Unfortunately, many sleep-deprived people still decide to hit the gym and lift heavy weights even when they are running on empty. Sleep gives our bodies the ability to move around during the day and is crucial for healthy muscle recovery and development. Therefore, sleep is essential for exercise safety

If you decide to run, lift weights, or operate gym machinery while sleep-deprived, you run the risk of hurting yourself or others. And, without proper sleep, you won’t be able to reap the benefits of your workout anyway!

What are the long-term effects of lack of sleep?

Outside of the daily effects of sleep deprivation, chronic sleep deprivation comes with a laundry list of long-term consequences that can make life very difficult. 

  • Obesity: Not getting enough sleep can increase your levels of ghrelin, the hormone that makes you hungry, and decreased levels of leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite. This imbalance can contribute to weight gain, and potentially heighten the risk for obesity over time.
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Sleep plays a vital role in regulating blood pressure and maintaining the health of your blood vessels. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces stress hormones that can raise your blood pressure and increase inflammation in your arteries, putting you at greater risk of cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and a heart attack or stroke. (Check out our blog on heart healthy tips!)
  • Reduced recovery: Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to prolonged recovery times from illness and increased susceptibility to chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. 
  • Mood disorders and other mental health problems: As we mentioned, long-term sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and irritability which can affect your day-to-day life. 
  • Reduced lifespan: Plenty of research has pointed to the fact that people who have healthier sleep habits are incrementally less likely to die early and that poor quality sleep can lead to health conditions that can shorten their lifespan. Sleep well, live longer — it really is that simple.

How do you fix sleep deprivation?

The best way to fix sleep deprivation is to establish a healthy and consistent sleep schedule to ensure that you are getting at least 7–9 hours of sleep every single night. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help balance out your circadian rhythm, or your internal clock that lets you know when you are tired. 

Creating a relaxing bedtime routine can help signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. This may include activities like reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation. It’s also important to ensure that your sleeping environment is comfortable and relaxing. You can achieve this by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool and investing in a high-quality mattress. 

If you are still struggling with sleep problems, consider speaking to a sleep specialist or another healthcare professional who may be able to help you get the quality sleep you need.

Complete Care can handle any emergencies or injuries resulting from sleep deprivation

Now that we’ve discussed the dangers of sleep deprivation, we hope that you will make sleep more of a priority for your health and overall well-being. If you skip out on sleep because you’re working late or simply staying up too late, just know that these things are not worth compromising your health over. If you do happen to run into any sleep-related concerns, such as illness or injury, know that Complete Care is here to help you get back on track.

Whether you’re experiencing chest pain at night or have suffered a painful injury, Complete Care can help manage your symptoms to put you back in better health. We have multiple locations in Texas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, East Texas, Lubbock, and San Antonio) and in Colorado Springs that are open 24/7 whenever you need us. At Complete Care, we’ve got you covered.

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