Physical Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Physical signs of sleep deprivation

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 41 million adults in the United States don't get enough sleep, putting them at risk for suffering the physical effects of sleep deprivation. This can lead to serious physical conditions that have short-term and long-term effects on the body.

Short-Term Effects

Many people have felt the common physical effects of sleep deprivation. Droopy eyes, weakness, and irritability are all symptoms expected from lack of sleep.

Some short-term effects are less easily identified and can be dangerous if combined with machinery or a moving vehicle. They include:

  • Inability to problem solve or make decisions
  • Forgetfulness
  • Slower reaction times
  • Disorientation
  • Falling asleep
  • Anxiety

People who don't get enough sleep can get sick more easily. With less sleep, the body is unable to produce white cells as well as it should, making the immune system more vulnerable to attack.

Usually, these physical conditions can be resolved by simply taking a nap or by getting the proper amount of sleep at bedtime.

Long-Term Effects

If sleep deprivation is not solved, the body can manifest long-term, serious conditions. Many of these cannot be solved by simply getting more sleep.


Obesity is a sneaky long-term effect of not sleeping enough. It is caused by the body producing too little of the hormone leptin. Leptin is what makes a person feel full after eating and triggers the need to stop eating. If the body doesn't have enough of this hormone it will constantly crave foods that are high in carbs, making a person much more likely to overeat. This, of course, can lead to weight gain according to studies done by University of Chicago researchers.

Heart Disease

Researchers of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that women who sleep five hours or less have a higher risk of coronary heart disease. Another study from researchers from the University of California-San Francisco founds that women who slept for less than six hours a night have more inflammation throughout their bodies, which increases the heart attack risk.


A study in the online edition of the AHA Journal found that out of the 4,800 men and women studied, those who got five hours of sleep or fewer were around 60 percent more likely to develop hypertension. Another study published in the journal Circulation found teens who slept six-and-a-half hours or fewer doubled their risk of developing hypertension.


The Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Denver found that seniors with insomnia were 17 times more likely to remain depressed as opposed to those who did get adequate sleep. Other research goes even further to suggest that sleep deprivation can cause a variety of major psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD.


The University of Chicago Medical Center discovered that lack of sleep could interfere with the body's regulation of sugar metabolism and insulin production. This can make a person more likely to develop diabetes. Another study from the same university found that a lack of sleep caused people to become insulin-resistant where the body does not appropriately use insulin -- similar to how it reacts in people who are diabetic. More research is needed to understand this.

The Significance of Sleep Deprivation

The potential impact of sleep deprivation can be significant and long-lasting; in some instances, it can be life-threatening. If you are having a sleep problem, a doctor should be consulted for more information and testing to avoid the long-term physical effects of sleep deprivation.

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Physical Effects of Sleep Deprivation