How Is Sleep Deprivation Defined and What Does it Mean?

Sleep deprivation is a condition of not getting adequate sleep to feel rested and refreshed. This can be an acute event or a chronic sleep disorder. Healthy sleep is vital to maintaining good physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation has many causes and equally as many treatments so there are a lot of options to help you regain quality sleep tonight.  

Sleep deprivation is the inability to sleep when your mind and body signal you to

What Is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is the inability to sleep when your mind and body signal you to. You could be lying in bed staring at the ceiling for hours, you may be traveling and unable to sleep, or you may have bouts of insomnia where your sleep is interrupted by bouts of wakefulness. A prolonged lack of sleep even for a few days is enough to have a detrimental effect on your cognitive abilities, mood, health, and learning skills.   

What Causes Sleep Deprivation? 

Sleep disorders are caused by many different factors. Stress is a major cause of sleep deprivation and puts you in a vicious circle of worry and insomnia that damages your health. You could be on a new medication, have a hormonal imbalance, be jet-lagged, or be sleeping in a new environment. Certain health issues such as depression, chronic pain syndrome, schizophrenia, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease are known to cause sleep disorders.    

Sleep Deprivation Effects on Physical and Mental Health

Sleep deprivation side effects can range from mild to severe, depending on how long you've struggled with chronic sleep deficiency. Insufficient hours of sleep and quality rest can be linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stoke, depression, impaired cognition, accidents, and injuries. Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression can also cause sleep deprivation which in turn exacerbates symptoms further.

Important processes take place as you sleep. Memories are cataloged and stored, energy is replenished, muscles are repaired, and your immune system is boosted. Good quality REM sleep is essential to maintaining good physical and mental health. Sleep can help you heal from illness as you allow your body to rest and your immune system can do its job.     

The Connection Between how Much you Sleep and Your Mood

The effects of sleep deprivation for even one night can be obvious to those around you. You may be short-tempered with loved ones and feel sad and stressed. Your cognitive abilities may not be as quick as usual, you may have a hard time concentrating on tasks, learning anything new may be impossible when getting through a day without healthy sleep. Anxiety can be the mood of the day when dealing with the effects of sleep deprivation

A University of Pennsylvania study found that those who get by on just 4.5 hours of sleep per night for just one week suffered from mental and physical exhaustion, anger, anxiety, and sadness. When the subjects returned to their normal healthy sleep routine, the negative effects of sleep deprivation vanished and good mood resumed.   

The Most Common Causes of Sleep Deprivation 

Sleep Disorders 

Sleep disorders are an obvious explanation for sleep deprivation. Insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea are major culprits of loss of sleep. Sleep disorders have many treatments both holistic and medicinal. Speak to your doctor for a suitable diagnosis and treatment plan.  

Experiencing Sleep Deprivation? You Are Not Alone

Sleep deprivation is, unfortunately, a chronic condition in the U.S. Not getting enough sleep each night has an increased risk of drowsy driving. Jobs that cause sleep restriction such as long haul drivers will benefit from plenty of rest breaks to replenish energy and limit the chance of accidents.  

How Much Sleep Do I Need?


Hours of Recommended Sleep Per Night 

0-3 months 

14-17 hours 

4-11 months

12-15 hours 

1-2 years 

11-14 hours 

3-5 years 

10-13 hours 

6-13 years 

9-11 hours 

14-17 years 

8-10 hours 

18-64 years 

7-9 hours 

65+ years 

7-8 hours 

Source: CDC 

Sleep Deprivation Treatments  

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that retrains your neural pathways, transmuting negative thought patterns into positive ones. There is a behavioral aspect of CBT that retrains behavior. CBT for sleep deprivation will focus on cleaning up your sleep hygiene routine, your physical sleep environment, and help you deal with any stress you may have around sleep.


Studies showing long term easily achievable routines for improving poor sleep quality always account for the benefits of physical exercise. Circadian rhythms could be reset by implementing a daily fitness routine that is enjoyable and manageable for your schedule. Physical exercise can be a walk in the park, gentle yoga, Thai Chi, or more strenuous strength training, cross country running, or swimming. Exercise greatly improves mood, health, and sleep quality. Those who suffer from insomnia or depression will benefit from physical exercise.  

Sleep Hygiene Solutions

Cleaning up your sleep routine and nightly habits can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer. It is a good practice to wind-down well for one hour before bed. This means putting your cell phone on do not disturb mode, enjoying a hot bath or shower to relax, reading a book or listening to some soothing music, or doing a little gentle yoga to stretch your muscle. Keeping a sleep diary and daily gratitude list can help you combat feelings of anxiety and release any negative emotions or stress you have experienced that day.  


Depending on your circumstances, a doctor may prescribe a sleep medication. However, these medications do have significant side effects and may be habit forming. Talk to your doctor about the best course of treatment for you. 

Alternative Therapies 

Alternative therapies to treat sleep disorders include regular massage, acupuncture, acupressure, tai chi, or yoga. These are non-invasive treatments that are natural and avoid the use of prescription medication. The addition of a melatonin supplement to your diet is a natural hormone that could reset your circadian rhythms, melatonin is known as the sleep hormone and alerts your system to prepare for sleep. Valerian tea or supplement coupled with relaxation techniques could be beneficial in helping you manage your sleep disorder. Be sure to consult your doctor before adding supplements to your regimen.


If only we could repay our weekly sleep debt by oversleeping on our days off. Unfortunately, this never works. A total sleep overhaul is needed if you are suffering from weekday insomnia. A sleep study performed at a clinic could offer some insights into your sleep disorder. There are options for home sleep studies but they are not as comprehensive. 

Attention deficit is a major consequence of sleep disorders. Your cognitive abilities diminish from just one night of poor sleep quality. The effects of sleep deprivation can be long term cognitive decline that affects your learning and decision-making abilities. Your mental health could suffer along with your personal relationships as you become irritable and withdrawn. Sleep is vital to a healthy life, healthy body, and healthy mind. It can be achieved by learning to manage stress, achieving a healthy work/life balance, and having more fun. Now, who can say no to that? 

The Long-Term Mental and Emotional Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia are all linked to sleep disorders. Emotional health suffers greatly when extremely tired, you become short-tempered, sad, unable to concentrate, and miserable. Implementing healthy sleep strategies can help you regain quality sleep.