Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Causes of Sleep Deprivation :
Not getting solid and restorative sleep, especially over long periods of time can create significant stress and illness. Our bodies are designed to sleep approximately 6-8 hours each night. Our biological clock is set ( and can be reset) to get certain amount of sleep every 24 hour cycle. Missing sleep or experiencing sleep deprivation can have profound effects on our life.Before examining the effects of sleep deprivation , lets first examine what may be some underlying causes. In order to know what treatment you may need or how to correct the problem, it’s important to determine the cause of your sleep disorder. For example, those with specific lifestyle habits that effect their sleep will need to alter their lifestyle, those on medication or people that suffer from some clinical disorder may need to change their medications.


Fatigue and sleeplessness are often a direct result of lifestyle choices. For example, consuming caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime is among the most common cause of sleep deprivation – arousing the bodies nervous system for many hours after use. Watching TV or working late on a mentally consuming project can drastically alter normal circadian patterns by over stimulating the brain at a time when it wants to shut down and prepare for sleep. Continual disruption of the natural sleep cycles can alter the circadian patterns and make for disturbed sleep.

Consequently, identifying the specific habits or lifestyle choices you make that affect your sleep can help you pinpoint what you need to work on or alter. Maintaining a sleep diary in which you record sleep details of both good and bad sleep. Sleep diaries should include – the date, foods you ate that day ( and times you ate), whether or not you exercised ( type and intensity), and any particular stresses.

While certain lifestyle choices cannot be changed, such as work , you can take certain steps to improve your sleep once you understand the causes.


Medications can interfere with the body’s natural rhythms, leading to restlessness, insomnia, and fatigue. Unfortunately, some people look to sleeping aids ( ambien, tylenol3, etc..) to force rest or sleep. However, taken over long periods of time, they lose their effectiveness and interfere with the body’s natural sleep cycles. Research has indicated that sleeping pills further interfere with deep sleep and REM sleep which in turn have greater health implications.

Talk to your doctor or a specialist if after starting any medications you are experiencing any sleep problems. Other medications might suit your body better. A few restless nights can be normal. Your sleep, however, should not be compromised a few weeks into a new medication regimen.

Medical Conditions

Underlying health conditions can also interfere with sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Medical conditions can be either physical or mental in nature. For example, asthma (physical) may make sleeping difficult, whereas, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression (mental) can lead to insomnia.

If you are having difficulty sleeping, are not on any medications and don’t have lifestyle habits that affect your sleep, seek medical attention to determine whether or not you suffer from any other medical condition that is affecting your sleep.

Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain

Sleep is critical to good health and a good metabolism. Sleep is a time when our bodies replenish, repairing the mental and physical stresses that we are subjected to every day. Unfortunately, our over-achieve culture has led to a sleep-deprived generation. Our brains have been over stimulated by the likes of 24 hour cable TV, PDA’s, cell phones, and computers which has led to fatigue, compromised health and weight gain.

Experts believe that adults need seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night. Research indicates that reduced amounts of REM sleep can lead to increased food intake. There are two phases of sleep, Non -REM sleep and REM sleep.

Non-REM sleep consists of 4 phases:
– Phase 1: A person is in between wake and sleep, and can be easily awakened.
– Phase 2: A period of light sleep where the body temperature drops.
– Phase 3 and 4: This is deep sleep known as delta sleep. This is a restorative stage – the body is repairing itself, building bone and muscle and releasing certain hormones.

REM: This the dream stage – increased brain activity and less muscle activity.

Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes. If your sleep cycles get disturbed and your body does not experience adequate delta and REM sleep , there is greater likelihood of experiencing weight gain due to compromised metabolic function and increased desire to eat.

Sleep Apnea and Weight Gain

Research indicates that sleep disorders such as sleep apnea ( person stops breathing due to an obstructed or blocked airway) may contribute to obesity. It is more common in overweight men.
Other factors include: over 40, having a large neck, and family history of the disorder. If left untreated it can lead to high blood pressure, a heart attack or stroke. people who suffer from sleep apnea or other sleep disorders are less likely to enter the deeper, more restorative phases of sleep and therefore, a greater risk of weight gain.

Sleep, Hormones and Weight Gain

2 Hormones – Leptin and Grehlin help the body control appetite and weight gain and loss. Leptin suppresses appetite and Grehlin increases appetite. When a person is deprived of sleep, levels of Grehlin increase leading to greater food intake, and levels of Leptin decrease. Regardless of whether you eat right and exercise regularly, this hormone shift , aggravated by sleep deprivation, can cause or intensify obesity.

Getting your sleep problems diagnosed and treated might be a crucial step in helping you with your weight-loss goals. Getting good restorative sleep might be the answer.

Quality Sleep and Exercise

People who exercise regularly appear to suffer less sleeplessness problems. Exercise seems to help our bodies transition between the phases of sleep more consistently and smoothly. With the physical stress from exercise on the body, the brain increases the amount of time we spend in deep sleep – repairing and restoring the body. Too much exercising or over-training, however can have the opposite effect, leading to insomnia. Generally speaking, 60-90 minutes of exercise or training per day is considered safe, with minimal negative sleep effects. This should also be accompanied by good hydration and eating habits that support your individual activity and fitness level. It is also important to choose your exercise time wisely. Late-night training can interfere with a good night’s sleep. Morning or daytime seems to work best.

Your fitness regimen should include: aerobic conditioning, functional and core strengthening, stretching ( perhaps yoga) , meditation and deep breathing, and complimented by a healthy and balanced diet.

Aging and Sleep

Aging seems to directly impact sleep patterns. By middle age, we spend less time in deep sleep- sleep is more shallow and we tend to wake more often. By 60-70 years of age, there is a marked decrease in delta sleep( restorative sleep), impacting men slightly more than women. However, the amount of time spent in REM sleep remains the same.

The total amount of time spent sleeping increases slightly as we approach 65, as does the time to fall asleep.

Our sleep patterns change due to both physical and lifestyle changes that occur as we age:
– Aging bladder
– Changes in body temperature cycle
– Decreases in chemicals ( melatonin, growth hormone) that regulate sleep.
– Changes in diet
– Inactivity ( lack of exercise)
– Decreased exposure to natural light
– Decreased mental stimulation

Despite these changes and sleep problems that occur with age there are ways to cope with changing sleep patterns to ensure we get a good night sleep and wake with a new sense of energy and vitality.

1. Adopt an active lifestyle – contributing to increased memory and positive state of mind which lead to supporting anti-aging efforts. Staying active helps you fall asleep and ensure a more complete night of sleep.

2. Develop good sleep habits – minimize naps during the day. Try to get to bed at the same time each night and similarly, try to wake at the same time.

3. Do not eat to close to bedtime – if you are hungry make it a light , easily digestible snack.

4. Keep a positive outlook on life – worries and depression can disturb your sleep.

5. Prepare for sleep with light reading or soothing music.

Further Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation directly impacts learning , memory and clarity of thought. New information will not be well processed if you suffer poor sleep. A complete night of uninterrupted sleep cycles is needed to fully assimilate the new ideas. Different parts of the brain are rested and regenerated during different sleep phases. During REM sleep, memories are consolidated and categorized by the brain. New synaptic connections are also formed during REM sleep, aiding learning. If REM sleep is reduced, new knowledge might not be retained ( long-term memory affected). Conversely, short-time memory might be improved in the sleep deprived person because the part of the brain that controls short-term memory has remained on and the memories are still fresh.

– Sleep deprived people are more accident-prone than well rested people. Those that are sleep deprived can fall asleep at odd times without any awareness.

– Sleep deprivation leads to concentration difficulties which can affect performance at work, in sports, and communication with others. This person can also experience a lack of energy which also impacts the above mentioned.

– As covered earlier, people who are chronically short of sleep have a tendency to gain weight. This weight gain, left unaddressed, can lead to heart disease and diabetes. The body of a sleep deprived person produces less growth hormone and a weakened immune system which can contribute to faster aging and disease.

Sleep is essential to life and good health. The key is in organizing your schedule that works in supporting good sleep habits.

Good night and happy dreams.

posted by Philip Bergman at 4:17 PM 0 Comments

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