The dangers of sleep deprivation

From impaired judgement to raised blood pressure, a lack of sleep can have severe effects on the body and mind

Jodie Tyley
Monday 12 October 2015 16:39 BST

Most adults need between six and nine hours sleep per night in order to perform at their best. The amount of sleep a person needs depends on their genetics, enabling some individuals to function with less zzz’s while others need to hit the snooze alarm.

One of the major problems with sleep deprivation is decline in cognitive ability; our brains just don’t work properly without sleep. We struggle with memory, learning, planning and reasoning. A lack of sleep can have severe effects on our performance, ranging from irritability and low mood, through to an increased risk of heart disease and a higher incidence of road traffic accidents. Lack of sleep doesn’t just make you tired; it can have dangerous unseen effects.

Here are six common dangers of sleep deprivation:

Impaired judgement

Sleep deprivation impacts your visual working memory, making it difficult to tell the difference between relevant and irrelevant stimuli in your environment, and affects your emotional intelligence, behaviour and ability to manage stress.

Mood disorders

Mental health problems are linked to sleep disorders, and sleep deprivation can play havoc with neurotransmitters in the brain, mimicking the symptoms of depression, anxiety and mania.

Raised blood pressure

Poor sleep can raise blood pressure, and in the long term is associated with an increased risk of diseases such as coronary heart disease and stroke. This danger is increased in people with sleep apnoea.

Mystery sleeping illness

Increased accidents

In the USA it is estimated that 100,000 road accidents each year are the result of driver fatigue, and over a third of drivers have admitted to falling asleep at the wheel.

Weight gain

Sleep deprivation affects the levels of hormones involved in regulating appetite. Levels of leptin (the hormone that tells you how much stored fat you have) drop, and levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin rise.


Severe sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations; seeing things that aren’t really there. In rare cases can lead to temporary psychosis or symptoms that resemble paranoid schizophrenia.

Jodie Tyley is editor of How It Works Magazine. The latest issue is out now: Issue 77 ‘The Power of Magnetism’

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