Waking Up Tired? 15 Serious Effects of Sleep Deprivation and How To Fix It

Waking up after a night of bad sleep or simply a night without enough sleep is horrible.

Not only do you feel terrible and long for more sleep, but you know the day ahead of your is going to be tough - the headaches, the tired eyes, the lethargy, the fatigue...

No amount of coffee or fancy nootropics are going to get you out of this mess. 

Worst though is when this happens every day - you never catch up on that precious, blissful sleep and enter a state of chronic sleep deprivation.

I don't want to alarm you - but as I will explain in great detail below, such a state is very damaging to your health. 

Fortunatley though there are some simple things you can do to rid yourself of chronic sleep deprivation.

I have split this article up into 3 sections:

  1. Part 1 explains what sleep deprivation is, how widespread it is and the profound impact it is having on our society
  2. In Part 2 I look at the research and discover the very serious impact sleep deprivation is having on our health
  3. Finally in Part 3 I provide a simple, inexpensive way to rid yourself of sleep deprivation and start waking feeling fresh and revitalised.

Let's begin.


Part 1: Sleep Deprivation And The Sleep Disorder Pandemic

 This section is rather alarming because it showcases the devastating sleep deprivation epidemic prevalent in society today. Sleep disorders, which are more common than you'd think, also contribute to that problem.

So let's get started the right way...

A shocker:

Sleep deprivation statistics

1 in 3 Americans, on average, is not getting 7 hours of sleep a night .[210] That means that 1 in 3 Americans are chronically sleep deprived.

On average, people are getting about 6.5 hours of sleep each night. And sure: If these 6.5 hours had high quality, there would be less of a problem. 

But due to damaging habits such as technology use in the bedroom, however, different sleeping times across the week and coffee drinking in the evening, quality isn't nearly what it should be either.

And that's a shame...

So just sleeping more is thus not the answer.

(You'll find many reasons why that's the case later on in this blog post.)

People are spending tons of money on getting better sleep though:

40 billion dollars a year are spent on sleep improvement.[694] That number stems from 2015 and is projected to grow to ~50 billion next year (2020). With the possibilities to increase deep sleep, I wouldn't be surprised if the sleep improvement industry grew dramatically to $75 billion in 2025.

Sleeping is hot, and with good reason:

Besides the 1 in 3 people who are chronically sleep deprived, another third is probably not hitting high deep sleep percentages.

Anyone who has started using a sleep wearable such as the Oura Ring may get a shock to see how terrible their sleep really is.

Still, this does leave a big chunk of people who seem to do 'OK' when it comes to sleep. But 'OK' is not great. 

In fact, ongoing average quality sleep may be even more dangerous than poor quality. 


Let me explain:

With complete sleep deprivation at least you know your health is deteriorating. You see it and feel it. The link between declining health and bad sleep is clear.

With average sleep quality, you're often not realizing the impact it is having on your health as the immediate effects are not as pronounced.

I talk about this effect in more detail in the article The Importance of Feedback For Improving Sleep, Health & Performance (and it's why I have all my clients use a sleep tracker). 

And yet, great sleep probably has massive advantages over average in the long run.

Fortunately, the tide is turning in society's conception of sleep. 

For instance, Silicon Valley companies now allocate workspace to areas in which you can meditate or sleep. Flexible work schedules have become a possibility - a blessing to morning birds and night owls.

Fixing an adult's sleep misses the point though. More action is needed:

It's not just adults who are getting hammered by sleep deprivation. The teenage sleep problem may be far worse for several reasons:

  • Teenagers are only sleeping 5-7 hours during school days even though they need 9-10 hours of sleep. Comparison? An adult who gets 5 hours of sleep while needing 6-7 hours of sleep only has a 1-2 hour deficit. For a teenager that's 3-5 hour.
  • Teenage brains are still developing. That development continues into your early (and perhaps even late) 20s. Sleep is thus probably more vital at that time than during your adult years, even though teenagers are massively missing out.
  • Even more worrisome is that society is not adjusted to the sleep schedule of teenagers. Remember that most teenagers are night owls, even though they're required to go be at school at 8 AM. 10 AM would be a far better starting time for this age group.

And how about children?

At least these poor minors are getting what they need, right?

Children, unfortunately, are also sleep deprived.

And that problem is even getting worse.[698Children between 6 and 12 years old are missing out anywhere between 1 and a whopping 5 hours of sleep each and every single school night.



All of the undersleeping during school and work days builds up sleep debt:

The problem of sleep debt

Say you skip a night's sleep one day. The next day you sleep 6 hours. And the following two nights you're in bed for 11 hours to make up.

Alternatively, you could have slept 7 hours a night for 4 days straight.  

Under both scenarios, you'd have a total of 28 hours of sleep spread over 4 nights.

The kicker?

Sleep quality is way better during the second instance. 


Simple: even though the deep and REM sleep phases will be proportionally more predominant during the 11 hour nights, they do not compensate for the loss of the 0 and 6 hour sleep times. You accumulate what is called "sleep debt" as a consequence.

And like government debt sleep debt will also never be repaid.

Just see sleep debt this way: 

Say you smoke cigarettes for 5 days a week and then quit on the weekends. In that case, your lungs will be in a poorer condition than if you didn't smoke at all. Poor sleep thus always damages your health.

It's not just sleep quantity that matters though. An even biggest issue with getting adequate sleep quality are sleep disorders.

The story gets even worse before it gets better. So fasten your seat belt once again:

Sleep disorders

About 50 - 70 million Americans currently have a sleep disorder that prevents them from attaining quality sleep at night.[210] That's a whopping 1 in 6 people.

Sleep disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs, and narcolepsy, all lower sleep quality. Let's go over these conditions one by one:

  • Insomnia is the inability to sleep, even though you're tired. You thus want to sleep and "should" be asleep.[631, 632, 633] The result of insomnia is excessive daytime tiredness. And you know what? A whopping 10-15% of the population suffers from insomnia.[632] Different types of insomnia exist, such as not being able to sleep due to psychological reasons (conditioned non-sleeping), insomnia as a side-effect of a condition such as depression, and insomnia as a side-effect of medication. 
  • Sleep apnea denotes frequently waking up during the night because of an inability to breathe properly.[634, 635, 636] As a result of shortness of breath, the body enters a "fight or flight" response which wakes you up many times per night. Waking up so frequently leads to fragmented sleep, a sign of low-quality sleep. Different causes for sleep apnea exist, such as narrowing or collapsing airways.[635] Different causes also require different treatment.[635] Another crazy statistic? 24% of men and 9% of women have their sleep impaired by sleep apnea.[641]
  • Restless legs is a condition in which you feel like you should be moving your lower legs.[637, 638, 639, 640] The condition is also associated with pain and unease. Moving cures that unease, but you cannot sleep while you're moving. Restless legs thus keep you from sleeping properly. About 3% of adults suffer from restless legs syndrome.[638]
  • Narcolepsy is a condition in which you fall asleep during the daytime.[642, 643, 644] Technically, it's not a sleeping condition but a problem in maintaining wakefulness. As a result of narcolepsy you'll be falling asleep during the day - doing so can be dangerous while driving or operating machinery.[643] Such sleepiness is often paired with muscle weakness, making the condition very dangerous. Fortunately, only up to 0.2% of the population in developed countries suffers from this condition. During narcolepsy, the orexin system that promotes wakefulness malfunctions.[678Recall that I treated orexin in the previous section. Moving on:
  • Hypersomnia or sleeping too much.[645, 646, 647] Some people sleep 12 hours a day, which can lower your overall health. Although the reason for hypersomnia is sometimes unclear, the condition is affected by lifestyle choices.[645] Hypersomnia may overlap with narcolepsy in some cases.[647One more condition to consider though:
  • Parasomnia, or altered sleep, is the last sleep condition I'm considering here.[648, 649, 650] A sleep paralysis, in which you're awake but cannot move your body, or sleepwalking is examples of parasomnias. You can also experience dreams at the wrong moments in time, such as when falling asleep or when waking. Sleep terrors are another example, as well is sleep sex. Yes, sleep sex really exists...

If you've got a condition such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy then make an appointment with your physician.

This guide is not meant to manage or treat these conditions, although many of the later tips for deep sleep will improve your sleep quality almost regardless of your sleep condition.

And it's not just sleeping conditions that lead to deterioration in health:

Reversely, many health conditions affect your sleep quality. Let's look at a few conditions and observe their effect:

  • Chronic pain, unsurprisingly, has a huge effect on sleep quality. With chronic pain, you'll take longer to fall asleep, wake up during the night, and sleep less in total.[651] The more pain you have, and the more places that pain is located, the greater the sleep disturbance.[652] As a result, about 25% of people with chronic pain experience insomnia all the time.[653] Depression and ruminating about the worst possible outcomes in your life trajectory are associated with worse sleep outcomes.[654] 
  • PTSD, or "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder", is a condition in which your brain continually produces a fight and flight response. Sleep disturbances are the result of PTSD.[177, 178, 179; 547, 548, 549] Anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and nightmares are characteristics of PTSD. 
  • Autoimmune conditions such as Parkinson's and Multiple sclerosis. In Parkinson's, brain cells associated with dopamine creation lose function. The result is moderate to severe sleep disturbances.[655] Daytime sleepiness is the result of these disturbances.[656] Multiple sclerosis - in which the conductive sheet in the nervous system degenerates - is also paired with sleep problems.[657; 658] Insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and waking up due to involuntary movements are the result.[657]
  • Lung diseases, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are paired with both insomnia and sleep apnea.[659; 660] The reason is that lung function declines, allowing for poorer respiration during the night. Breathing problems are frequently worst during the nighttime, for the simple reason that you're laying horizontal instead of having a vertical posture. Asthma is similar and also paired with lowered breathing capacity.[661]
  • Heartburn increases when you're prone as well. In that position, stomach acid most easily enters the oesophagus. If you've got heartburn problems, there's about an 80% chance that heartburn causes trouble during the night.[662] About 20% of people experience heartburn weekly.[663]

As you can see, many health conditions can cause problems in sleep quality - leading to further health deterioration.

Lowered sleep quality in these conditions doesn't mean you're helpless--instead, it means you need to double down on improving the amount of deep and REM sleep you get.

In the next section, I'll consider the problem sleep deprivation has in causing health deterioration. Poor sleep thus causes disease, and disease further makes your health come down.

Sleep conditions are more prevalent than you'd think and cause a deterioration in sleep quality. Once you get a chronic health condition, such as heart failure or cancer, you'll generally also lower your sleep quality. Many people are also chronically sleep deprived in today's society. 



Part 2: 15 Avoidable Health Effects From Sleep Deprivation

I've often talked about the "poison drip" in this blog. The poison drip is an almost imperceptible source of damage that wreaks havoc on your health over time.

Air pollution is one example of a poison drip - many people breathe polluted air while never consciously being aware they increase their risk for heart disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and lung cancer.

Sleep deprivation is another poison drip. Why? Well, many people are so sleep deprived in today's society that they've never even felt the difference between great sleep and a continuous state of sleep deprivation. 


Only after you've fully optimized your sleep will you realize how sleep deprived you were for a long time.

I realized that effect myself in 2014 when I installed an app on my computer to reduce blue light emissions. I immediately became sleepy and realized I just found a game changer - but I also realized that something in my environment has lowered my sleep quality for most of my life (for the full story on how I turned my sleep and health around, be sure to read my article The Secret To A Great Nights Sleep).

This section considers 15 different health effects of sleep deprivation are considered. The goal of showing you all these effects is to demonstrate that optimizing sleep quality is non-negotiable. 

So let's get started: 


1. Lowers immune system functioning

Had a bad night of sleep?

The first thing impacted will be your immune system.[1, 2, 3

Inflammation, which is closely intertwined with immune system functioning, is raised after sleep loss for example.[1; 6In fact, sleep deprivation has similar effects upon inflammation as if you were alcoholic or depressed.[1] 

Inflammation is chronically raised in many modern conditions such as cancer and diabetes.[4; 5

The solution?

Over the long term, you'll want to keep your inflammation levels down. (If you want to test your inflammation markers, do a CRP test with LetsGetChecked).

The effects of sleep loss go beyond inflammation though. Poor sleep also makes you more susceptible to a common cold, for example.[3

The immune system is even directly dependent on your circadian rhythm because it is (or should be) more active during later in the day and less so late at night.[7That immune system is also regulated sleep itself by making you rest when you're hit with an infection.[8; 9]

So mom and grandma were right: get your sleep if you want to stay strong.



2. Increases your risk for certain cancers

Another shocker for a sleep-deprived society:

In women, the risk for breast, ovarian, and uretal cancer increases.[10, 11, 12, 13For men, unfortunately, an increased risk of prostate cancer may exist.[15, 16, 17, 18]

Gastrointestinal cancers also increase with excessively short sleep duration.[21, 22, 23, 24, 25] Shift work heightens that risk, simply because it leads to circadian disruptions 24-7.[25]

Additionally, if you've got sleep issues, such as sleep apnea, poor sleep quality, or insomnia, cancer risk directly goes up.[14]

In fact, sleep deprivation directly fuels tumor growth in rat studies.[19; 20] Sleep fragmentation - i.e. waking up frequently during the night - is also responsible for that growth.[20]

Even if you're so unfortunate to be struck by cancer, improving sleep quality may lead to a better prognosis over time.[25; 26]

Sorry about the depressing findings...

But remember: It's never too late to start sleeping better... 



3. Makes you more prone to get Alzheimer's disease

Remember the mentality of world leaders in the 80s? Both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher prided themselves on their ability to get by on 4 hours of sleep.

Elon Musk is even worse today - with his so-called "120-hour work weeks". 120 hour work weeks leave 48 hours for sleep, which is a bit under 7 hours at the maximum.

But as Elon needs time for other activities such as seeing his kids, traveling to work, showering, and socializing, not much time is left for sleeping.

His stress levels are so high that he needs "Ambien" to fall asleep - a prescription drug that knocks you out.

The end result is making many very stupid strategic errors in the last years, such as:

  • Saying he had "funding secured" so that Tesla could be taken private. No funding was secured, however.
  • Rage firing employees while having other talented staff leave the company.
  • Frequently getting angry at reporters and Tesla shareholders for asking the "wrong" questions.

Please Elon, sleep more and you'll be an even more productive person (and save your company from bankruptcy!) 

All these aforementioned actions are signs of deteriorating brain function under sleep deprivation.

Unfortunately, sleep loss also directly causes brain diseases such as Alzheimer's. In fact, both the aforementioned Reagan and Thatcher developed Alzheimer's in their later years.


Perhaps not:

Several plaque proteins such as "beta-amyloid" and "tau proteins" prevent brain cells from communicating in Alzheimer's also increase in quantity with sleep deprivation.[27; 28]

That plaque, in turn, decreases sleep quality by itself.[28In a sense, a vicious cycle of sleep deterioration is thus begun due to plaque formation.[30; 31]

In plain English, Alzheimer's deteriorates your brain condition and sleep deprivation has everything to do with causing that problem. 

 Even one night of sleep deprivation already causes a buildup of plaques in the brain by 25-30%.[32; 33] And the more sleep deprived you are, the quicker the (precondition to the) disease progresses.[34, 35, 36]

But there's good news:

Good quality sleep assists in removing excessive plaques from the brain.[29Sleeping less thus only creates the illusion that you have more time. 



4. Decreases self-control

Remember that time you skipped a night of sleep or when you just slept very poorly?

I do.

One of the first capacities to suffer is your ability for self-control. You'll be acting more impulsively and you'll have a decreased capacity for keeping your focus.[37]

Decision-making quality also takes a hit.[37

The results regarding self-control are far-reaching. You're more prone to engage in criminal behavior if you're sleep deprived, for example.[38] That risk of engaging in crime is directly explainable through a sleep loss-induced decrease in self-control.[38]

Want to get some work done? Sleep deprivation undermines your capacity to keep your attention on the task and increases procrastination.[39

The only downside of the studies I've been citing is that they're mostly associative studies--no direct causal role can be posited (yet).[37, 38, 39]

And to be very clear: you don't need to skip a night or two to become an impulsive wreck. Even minor sleep losses like getting 6 hours of sleep a few nights in a row instead of 7 or 8 already decrease self-control.[40]

Sleep loss leads to all kinds of "depravities", such as:

  • Overeating.[41, 42, 43, 44] A brain area involved with emotions called the "amygdala" increases in activity--the prefrontal cortex located above your eyes which is responsible for self-control, among others, is inhibited.[41] 

    Simply put, you'll desire more high calorie (processed) foods. Binge eating also likely increases with poorer sleep.[42] Snacking behavior also goes up, and snacking is rarely healthy.[43]

  • Increased risk of causing car accidents.[45] The research on this topic is very clear, unfortunately. 

    Sleeping 6 hours per night increases car crash risk by 33%.[45] Young drivers perform worst when sleep deprived - also because they are less able to tolerate sleep deprivation.[46] 

    The problem gets worse though:

    Very poor sleep over a period of months triples car accident risk.[52]

    Up to 20% of all serious accidents may be explainable through insufficient sleep alone.[47]  Many of these accidents are caused by what are called "micro-sleeps".[48] Microsleeps cause you to dip into sleep for a few seconds, which is just long enough to cause an accident.

    What's even worse is that no signs exist to warn you of these microsleeps.[48] You can't even consciously remember these moments after the fact.[48]

    And here's what is really dangerous:

    Sleep loss is about as bad as having a few glasses of alcohol and driving.[51] And having a few drinks further increases the risk of sleep deprived driving - which frequently happens during the evening.[49; 50]

    2 drinks thus equals 5 drinks during sleep deprivation, and mirrors drunk driving.

  • Engaging in more risky behavior - for some people.[53] The list of depravities continues. 

    If sleep loss is voluntary - i.e. you choose to sleep only 5 hours instead of 8 - then you're going to drink more alcohol, be more dis-inhibited, and engage in more dangerous driving.[53]

    Adolescents, who generally already are more risk tolerant than adults, take that trait over the top during sleep deprivation.[54; 55]

  • Makes you (more) immoral. Sleep deprivation also brings up the worst in human beings. Discriminatory tendencies go up, for example.[56]

    Additionally, you're unable to recognize emotions in other human beings and almost certainly you're more driven by anger.[57, 58, 59, 60] The brain parts engaged in self control can no longer adequately control lower more emotional brain parts in that instance.[59]

  • Committing violence.[61, 62] Yes, really. 

    Of course, most people will not become violent after missing a night of sleep. But in others, in which the threshold for violence is already lowered, risk increases.


So yes, sleep deprivation brings up the worst in you. 

And what's even worse?

You may not even consciously perceive how toxic your behavior becomes if you're sleep deprived. Why? Many people counterfactually rate themselves as functioning reasonably well even though they don't after a poor sleep.[63; 64]

Now you begin to understand why I said that most people need to experience high-quality sleep first, before realizing they were sleep deprived for a long time.

Moving on to another big problem:


5. Sleep deprivation makes you overweight while increasing diabetes risk

Sure, I've talked about sleep deprivation increasing your risk of making poor food choices and overeating.

But will you get overweight and sick because of that behavior? You're only overeating once, right? Next Monday you'll be eating healthy again, so there's no problem.

Not so quick...

Very few people miss just one night of quality sleep. And not only will these people be continually at risk of eating too much of the wrong foods, the way their body processes these foods is also negatively affected.

Sleep deprivation is strongly associated with diabetes, for example.[65] The question then becomes: what's first, the sleep deprivation or diabetes?

The answer is the former - although it's not just sleep deprivation causing diabetes, of course.[66; 67] The case can nonetheless be made that sleep deprivation contributes to diabetes.

Blood sugar levels will get dis-regulated with sleep loss, for example.[66] The reason for that finding is that carbohydrates (such as glucose) are more prone to stay in the bloodstream while not being taken up by your cells with poor sleep.[67

Appetite also increases, as you already know.[68; 70] 

Even kids are affected by the trend of sleeping less, increasing their obesity risk.[76; 77Sad but true, once again...

Bottom line? A greater risk of obesity and diabetes.[69; 71, 7273, 74, 75]


6. Decreased lifespan.

I'm often talking about "all-cause mortality" on this blog. All-cause mortality is an aggregate of all possible risks of dying. In essence, your risk of dying of a heart attack, a car accident, and old age are all included in that metric.

Having a short sleep duration increases that mortality metric with 12%, while (excessively) long sleep is associated with a 30% risk increase.[78; 79; 81] Some caveats do exist with these studies though, including the fact that they often depend on surveys which are commonly inaccurate.[80]

The most interesting finding to me is that sleeping very long is consistently associated with poorer health outcomes.[82; 84] Those outcomes almost certainly lead to decreased lifespan.

Overall health and inflammation may also determine how destructive short or long sleep duration are.[83] So if you're only sleeping 6 hours a night but you're otherwise in excellent health, there's less to worry about.

And the journey through "inferno" continues:


7. May disrupt the gut microbiome

Your circadian rhythm plays a tremendously important role in the gut microbiome - the mass of bacteria found in your gut.

These bacteria can even alter your circadian rhythm in turn.[85, 86, 87] The reverse is also true: circadian disturbances affect the gut microbiome.

In rat studies, sleep disturbances lead to alterations in bacteria populating the gut that are not positive.[88Human studies exhibit the same findings.[89] The end result is that your body processes carbohydrates differently, for example, leading to higher blood sugar levels with sleep deprivation.

Much more research is needed to research this connection in more detail though. I'll be waiting impatiently on those results.

Moving on:


8. Decreases high-level thinking skills

Sure, I've previously mentioned that sleep loss causes a decrease in attention span. The problem gets worse though - many brain functions are affected:

Such thinking skills include creativity, memory, and abstract thinking. Let's consider them one by one:

Creativity and abstract thought

Higher-order human thinking skills such as creativity and abstract thought are negatively impacted.[91; 92]

As a result, you'll less likely think outside the box.[91] With a lower ability to think outside the box your problem-solving ability is adversely affected.

The simpler the task, the less it is impacted by sleep deprivation. Routine jobs thus remain doable, while complex work becomes more and more difficult. Unfortunately, it's complex high-level thinking skills that pay well in today's society, not routine work.

Working memory

Additionally, working memory is also negatively affected by sleep deprivation.[92] Working memory denotes your brain's ability to keep multiple pieces of information in the back of your head at the same time - a 10-digit phone number is an example.

Poor sleep simply allows you to remember fewer digits or visual objects in that working memory.[93, 94, 95] Filtering out incorrect information (ignoring distractions) becomes more difficult as well.[95]

What's even worse is that your full working memory only recovers only a few days after losing a few hours of sleep.[93]

Spatial and emotional working memory is also reduced, although the former is only studied in mice.[96; 97] Spatial memory consists of your ability to remember the place of objects in space, and emotional working memory is your ability to ignore emotional distractions (such as angry faces).

Sleeping well has the opposite effect: you'll make quicker improvements when training your working memory.[98]

Long-term memory formation

Remember that both deep and REM sleep are needed for memory formation? 

Well without high-quality sleep your long-term memory takes a hit. A brain area called the "hippocampus" is responsible for that effect.[99, 100, 101]

Sleep depriving mice causes memories not to consolidate in the brain.[102] Younger mice experience a bigger memory-inhibiting effect than older ones.

A simple analogy to understand that the inability to form memories is the idea of a hard drive. If you don't save a Word file on your computer, you won't be able to access it later.

So if you study for an exam and memories don't consolidate due to poor sleep, you won't remember what you've attempted to cram into your head.[104, 105, 106, 107, 108]

All your efforts down the drain...

Other cognitive domains, such as "processing speed", are also negatively affected under sleep deprivation.

Processing speed is a simple measurement of how quickly your brain works. With sleep deprivation, your brain will simply work slower - just like getting a downgrade on computer speed.[109]

Bottom line: Sleep well to think well.

I've got an interesting story regarding sleep and brain function. I recently experimented with the nooptropic Qualia Mind. In this experiment, I did some cognitive testing before using this brain enhancing supplement and then again after 4 weeks of use.

The results were amazing - my cognitive function increased by 7.5% in a space of 4 weeks! But, Qualia Mind also increased my deep sleep score (as measured by my Oura Ring) by 50 minutes in this same period (You can read the full write up from this experiment in my article - Qualia Mind Review - Extraordinary Deep Sleep & Cognitive Benefits).

Now, was the cognitive improvement a result of the ingredients in Qualia Mind? Or, did Qualia Mind actually help my sleep which in turn increased my memory and brain performance? I'm curious to hear your thoughts (leave them in the comments section below).


9. Makes you less happy and (sometimes) more prone to be depressed

Feel like rubbish?

Maybe you've been chronically under-sleeping. 

To be clear, an association exists between lower subjective well being and abnormal sleeping patterns (either long or short).[110; 111; 113] Good sleep, on the contrary, leaves you more satisfied.[112] 

A very strong argument can be made that poor sleep makes you less happy - an observation that can be verified by almost anyone.

The relationship between depression and sleep deprivation is more complex though, as sleep loss is also a symptom of depression.[114, 115, 116, 117, 118] In that case, it's harder to tell which came first, the chicken or the egg.

What's even stranger is that sleep deprivation often reduces symptoms of depression if you're depressed.[119; 120]

I don't know how to explain that finding, especially since:


10. Increases anxiety risk and intensity

What's the difference between "stress" and "anxiety"? Many different explanations exist - I consider these definitions mostly overlapping but describe someone as "anxious" if their capacity for action is inhibited, while stress doesn't necessarily prevent you from acting.

(Most of the definitions of stress and anxiety are actually incoherent because they overlap too much.)

Sure, stress is more technical as a definition, entailing a continually present "fight, flight, freeze or faint" response.[123; 124] 

Sleep deprivation increases your anxiety levels.[122] And if you're already chronically anxious, sleep deprivation ups the ante.[121

Animal studies, surprisingly, show the opposite effect.[122One reason may be that you're less inhibited under sleep deprivation...

Next, another problem you'd do well to avoid:


11. Boosts heart health risks such as heart attacks and strokes

The story keeps getting worse...

Losing sleep increases both heart disease risk as well as the propensity for deterioration of predictors of heart disease such as high blood pressure.[125; 128; 129]

Simply put, sleep loss causes stress.[125] Levels of stress hormones such as cortisol are actually altered in that case.[126; 127] After losing sleep, your cortisol levels will be about 40% higher that night.[126]

Adrenaline levels also shoot up. Excessive adrenaline levels contribute to heart disease.[131; 132]

A part of the nervous system that's associated with the fight and flight response, called the "sympathetic nervous system",  additionally becomes more active.[130]


An increased risk of getting heart attacks and strokes. To be more precise, only strong associations exist.[134Everyone today knows that association (or correlation) does not equal causation.

Studies that do use causal inferences posit that in women, poor sleep more than doubles the risk of strokes and heart failure - men seem less affected.[133; 136] 

Optimizing sleep quality, moreover, is also important for preventing heart and blood vessel disease.[135]

Stroke risk also increases with poorer sleep quality.[137] Both sleep disorders and sleep disturbances are the main risk factors in getting a stroke.[138; 139] Both shorter and very long sleep increases that risk.[140]

Bottom line: sleep well if you care about heart health. It's not just the loss of love that can make you "heartbroken" - sleep deprivation has similar effects.


12. Exercise performance takes a hit

Slept for 4 hours, and now doing a quick gym workout to make you feel "awake"? 

Surprise, surprise:

With sleep deprivation, you probably won't perform as well as you otherwise would.

Under sleep deprivation, exercise capacity becomes significantly lower.[141] Endurance is generally more heavily impacted than maximal strength though.[142, 143, 144, 145]

Power output (i.e. explosive force) is usually not decreased with sleep loss, although findings are inconsistent.[157, 158, 159, 160, 161]

Heat and cold tolerance also go down with sleep deprivation - in fact, cold exposure is most affected.[148, 149, 150, 151] You may be aware of that effect from an inability to stay warm after losing sleep the night before. Your ability to lose heat also goes down though, making you heat intolerant as well.[148]

So prior to an important competition, it's unwise to spend the night partying - even if you don't drink any alcohol. In such a case, lowered heat or cold tolerance can make the difference between winning and taking 4th place.

Your core temperature also becomes lower--a sign of slowing metabolism--after sleep loss.[150]

Motor control, moreover, especially fine motor control is very heavily affected by losing sleep.[151, 152, 153] Sleep loss deteriorates motor control about as much as intoxication with alcohol.[152]

Balance and stability also go down.[156

Without sleep, you also cannot learn new skills that depend on motor control - at least when looking at rat studies.[154] So skateboarding or surfing practice might be much more useless if you're sleeping poorly. Weight lifting and running are probably less impacted.

Overall, your body just performs poorer when sleep deprived. If you're an athlete you'd do well continuing reading this blog post to optimize your performance.

There's yet another reason to avoid being sleep deprived as an athlete though: 


13.  Decreases hormonal health

And just when you thought things couldn't get any worse...

If you cut away a few hours of your sleep per night, testosterone levels will be about 20% lower after just one week.[162There's also an association with impaired sleep and lower testosterone levels.[163]

A study with only a few men additionally showed that missing one night of sleep already significantly reduces testosterone levels.[164]

So there's no way out: you need to sleep (well). Keep in mind that testosterone is also important for women - being supportive of both physical and mental wellness.[164, 165, 166]

In both sexes, low testosterone will decrease your ability to recover from workouts as well as overall well being, bone health, energy, heart condition, confidence, and cognitive performance.

And just when you thought my message couldn't become more depressing: Looks also deteriorate under sleep deprivation:


14. Makes your skin look terrible

(Don't worry, this sad section is almost over)

Dark circles under the eyes 24-7? 

Sleep deprivation may be the cause...

While unimaginable at first thought, sleep deprivation does lower skin quality. 

And as you know by now, sleep deprivation can make your immune system go haywire. That  immune system effect affects "collagen" production in the skin in turn.[167] Collagen is a protein that keeps your skin firm and elastic.

Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is not merely in the eye of the beholder. 

How do I know?

Other people, in fact, rate you as having less healthy skin when you've lost sleep.[168] The effects are shocking, as red and swollen eyes, dark circles around the eyes, pale skin with wrinkles, and a drooling mouth are all attributed to you with sleep loss.[168]

Bottom line: There's no way to hide that chronic sleep deprivation look. And to my knowledge, no makeup exists to cover up blood-shot eyes.


You appear as less attractive and people are less likely to socialize with you.[170]

Chronic sleep deprivation is also associated with quicker skin aging.[169; 171] So women make sure to optimize your sleep quality before you buy any beauty creams.

Let's move on to the last but not least of problems:


15. Increases risk for psychiatric illness

Bad news...

Sleep deprivation causes an increase in mental problems. In fact, sleep loss and mental issues are interrelated.[172; 173] Symptoms of sleep deprivation and psychiatric disorders, moreover, also overlap.[174]

So while you may experience hallucinations in a psychosis, you may experience the same after being sleep deprived for a few days.

Insomnia and mental issues are also very closely intertwined.[175; 176] Fixing sleep issues should thus be the primary goal for dealing with psychiatric illness. 


Sure: say you've got Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to trauma. In that case, sleep is almost certainly disrupted, especially the REM part of the cycle.[177, 178, 179] That REM sleep is also important for emotional processing, and disruption of that sleep stage thus inhibits your ability to overcome PTSD.[180, 181, 182]

Of course, PTSD is far more complex than I'm letting on here, but sleep disruption is an important component that keeps the vicious cycle intact.

Bottom line? Sleep deprivation makes you sick, stupid, weak, evil, egotistical, infertile, anxious, stressed, and old(er).

And that's not the best you...

I could have included more topics, such as workplace productivity that goes down with sleep deprivation. Fatigued employees cost you $2,000 per year as an employer, for example, due to increased accidents and lowered performance.[664; 665]

But you get the message.

So let's consider the topic of conflicting evidence with regard to sleep deprivation studies:

Studies claiming "sleep deprivation doesn't matter"

Believe it or not, some studies find no negative side effects of skipping a night of sleep.[146; 155]

Such studies are in the minority, however. For every study showing no effect of sleep deprivation, another 10 or 20 to demonstrate that an effect does exist.

The bottom line is that everyone can cherry pick a few studies to show that "sleep deprivation doesn't matter". The totality of the evidence points the opposite undeniable picture though...

Want more proof for the lunacy of that statement? Let's look at sleep deprivation from another angle:

The ethics of sleep deprivation studies

Interesting fact:

Many studies I've quoted from the 1990s and 2000s still allow participants to be sleep deprived. Examples are only letting them sleep 6 hours per night or even having them pull an all-nighter. 

With new evidence coming out on the destructive health effects of sleep deprivation, medical ethical boards will almost certainly no longer allow such studies because they damage the health of study participants. 

That outcome is very understandable, but also interesting because it entails that the highest quality studies you'll ever have access to have already been performed.

And consider this:

Medical ethical boards will routinely prescribe nicotine to be used if you're a human participant. Sleep deprivation, however, is out of the question because their health deteriorating effects are considered so unethical...

Most people have yet to catch up on that devastating effect of sleep loss though. Shift work is still common in today's society, unfortunately - which tells you all you need to know.

Sleep deprivation has horrible long-term health effects, increasing your risk for almost all modern diseases as well as undermining your well-being, thinking ability, self-control, and even the morality of your behavior. So in the next section, you'll learn how to prevent sleep deprivation at all costs:


Part 3: Sleep Deprivation Fixes - How To Easily Get More Deep Sleep And Wake Up Feeling Refreshed

If sleep deprivation is an issue for you, I have a list of things to help you turn your health (and life) around.

1. Read through my FREE blog articles on optimising sleep

I have been researching and writing about sleep for a few years now, and in that time not only have I dramatically improved my own sleep, but thousands of clients and readers of this blog.

I have put together a central resource with all my best sleep blogs and tips that you can view for free here - AlexFergus.com Sleep Resources - Everything You Need To Improve Your Sleep

2. Sign up for FREE my industry insider sleep tips & protocol

If you would like my exclusive sleep tips sent directly to your inbox, enter your email in the box below.

In the coming days, I will send you a series of emails revealing my sound asleep protocol. These emails are more than a list of tips and tricks to help you sleep, instead it is a system developed to help you adjust your lifestyle, routine and environment to ensure you are giving the body what it needs to get all the sleep your body deserves.



3. Check out my book - The Ultimate Guide to Deeper Sleep: 65 Research Backed Tips to Effectively Boost Your Deep Sleep

This solution will cost you a few dollars - but not much more than a price of a coffee (and I can assure you that the content in this book will allow you to give up your coffee habit!)

In my book The Ultimate Guide to Deeper Sleep, Bart Wolbers and I cover 65 scientifically proven ways you can increase your deep sleep quality.

This book is packed full of amazing takeaway tips, with simple action points for you to incorporate into your life.

You can learn more about this book HERE

4. Sign up for my Sound Asleep Program

This is the most expensive option of my recommendations - but if you are in serious need of improving your sleep and breaking your chronic sleep deprivation issue, then this is going to be the best path for you to take.

You will get access to my sleep program that I used to use with my corporate clients (and charge them thousands of dollars). 

In this program, I guide you through a 'back to basics' protocol to help address underlying issues causing your sleep to suffer, before implementing diet, lifestyle, environment and supplemental changes to ensure you sleep better than ever.

You can learn more about this course HERE.


Prioritise your sleep - your future health will thank you for it!

When it comes to chronic sleep deprivation, you need to take a long term view.

Sure this may cause some tough changes in the short term, but this will all pay off in the long term.

Hopefully the evidence I have provided above, along with the resources to help you fix your sleep, will motivate you to make the change to fix your sleep once and for all.


Items Mentioned:

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This is a post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MS), and is currently the chief science writer at Alexfergus.com. 



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