Effects of Sleep Loss

At this point, there’s no need to add additional motivation to improve your sleep. Reading this blog likely means that you’ve experienced sleep loss for a while and that you’re motivated to change it.

  • Learning a bit more about the many ways that sleep benefits your health can help sustain your drive to better health as you push yourself through the process of improving your sleeping habits.

What happens when we do not sleep?

Video from youtube.com

Whats happens to our brain and body when we do not sleep?

Video from youtube.com

Lets examine this in more detail…

Short-term effects

In sleep deprivation, the negative health outcomes are pretty well established.

  • In the short-term, sleep deprivation is associated with impaired immune function, memory, and physical performance.

Just an hour less sleep, (e.g. 6 hours instead of 7 hours), for a week can impair your immune response by 40–60%. This same amount of partial sleep deprivation can also compromise your driving performance to the equivalent of a blood alcohol content of 0.05–0.08%. That’s right, legally drunk!

  • This downward trend in performance has been well documented in commercial industries where they often refer to “sleepiness” as “fatigue”. The National Transportation Safety Board in the US regularly tracks sleep-related accidents, which exceed 100,000/year with a total cost greater than $12 billion every year.

  • “Fatigue” is also involved in 57% of deaths of truck accidents, and half of airline carrier accidents from 1978 to 1990 involved pilots who were awake for more than 11 hours prior to accident.

Due to the critical risks of insufficient sleep, we urge especially commercial drivers and pilots to seek professional help at a sleep center.

Long-term effects

  • In the long-term, chronic sleep deprivation is associated with significantly increased rates of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and motor vehicle accidents.

  • Sleep deprivation due to shift work is also considered a known probable carcinogen by several national and international cancer institutes. While they hesitate to definitively state a causal relationship, an organization in the Netherlands was the first to pay for a woman’s cancer treatments due to her history of shift work.

The long-term negative health outcomes for those with insomnia are a little more fuzzy than for those with sleep deprivation.

  • While insomnia is distressing, people suffering from it do not always have reduced total sleep time. The primary health risk is a 3-fold increased risk for developing hypertension.

  • However, day-to-day performance is typically preserved in people with insomnia while performance continues to decline in those with accumulating sleep deprivation.

  • These differences are the reasons why top insomnia specialists will likely tell you that if they need a ride to the airport in the early morning, they’d ask someone with insomnia before asking someone who is sleep deprived.

This is not to say that there are no other negative health outcomes.

  • Although multiple physiological systems appear to be elevated across the 24-hour period including stress hormones and whole brain metabolism, negative health outcomes begin to mirror those of chronically sleep deprived populations in those with insomnia and objectively measured short sleep (i.e., less than 6 hours/night as measured in a sleep clinic).

  • E.G. increased risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke if you have difficulties falling or staying asleep and average less than 7 hours of sleep per night.

Although insomnia is a form of disrupted sleep, the good news is that it is often less harmful than we perceive it to be!


Having gained a good understanding of the fundamentals regarding the effects of sleep loss, here are 3 tips to try out yourselves the next time you want to achieve a healthy nights sleep…

  1. …if you feel drowsy while sleeping, pull over and take a 20 minute nap.

  2. …avoid frequently rotating shifts.

  3. …try to avoid long commutes that reduce sleeping time.

Click here to read our next blog that discusses sleep complaints in more detail, and provides another 3 useful tips you can use yourself to help improve your sleep.

Umer Nawaz