October 04, 2021 4 min read

Sleep is as essential to human life as the air we breathe. Yet, surveys show that every 1 in 3 adults are not getting the recommended amount of sleep. 

The causes of this prevalent problem are wide and varied. Poor  sleep hygiene, work obligations, lifestyle choices, sleep disorders, and even medical problems can all interfere with sleep. Just one sleepless night will leave you feeling tired, drowsy, and with an inability to focus. But the outcome is even worse if you’re chronically sleep-deprived: high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and depression. 

Another problem with chronic sleep deprivation is that many people don’t realize what is happening to them. Research from Harvard Medical School found that chronically sleep-deprived people were unable to accurately assess how badly they were affected. 

Sleep deprivation can affect adults as well as children. However, it can manifest differently in different age groups. If you’re wondering whether you (or your child) could be sleep deprived and not even know it, looking for signs of sleep deprivation can help.

What Is Sleep Deprivation?

In sleep medicine, sleep deprivation is defined as a state of insufficient or inadequate sleep due to outside influences. It’s different from insomnia, which is the inability to fall or stay asleep despite having ample opportunity to do so. 

But in its broadest sense,  sleep deprivation is a state caused by inadequate quantity or quality of sleep for any reason.

People can end up being sleep-deprived because they often stay up late watching TV or surfing the internet. Others find themselves in this predicament due to noise, overwork, shift work, and illness. Whatever the causes, sleep deprivation has short-term and long-term consequences. 

Short-term consequences include reduced alertness and fatigue, which can be dangerous if you’re operating machinery. Long-term consequences include an increased risk of chronic illness like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety. Sleep regulates many physiological functions, and going without sleep will inevitably impair these processes.

Signs of Sleep Deprivation in Adults

Your brain and other body systems need sleep to function normally — and they need it every day. Just one night of not enough or poor sleep leads to obvious symptoms, such as:  

  • Grogginess
  • Constant yawning
  • Poor concentration
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Mood swings

  • An older study inOccupational & Environmental Medicine with almost 40 subjects found that going just 17-19 hours without sleep led to impairment similar to having a 0.05% blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Longer periods without sleep had the same effect as having a BAC of 0.1% — which is above the legal limit.

    However, going with less-than-optimal sleep for a long time will manifest differently. Usually, people in these cases don’t know they’re sleep deprived. In fact, it can be so insidious that you don’t even notice the changes in yourself. But if you’re experiencing any of the following, you may have a problem: 

  • Dark under-eye circles
  • Microsleeps
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Depression
  • Low energy
  • Lowered libido
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Memory problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches

  • Many of these symptoms are nonspecific, which is another reason they may go unnoticed. If you’re not getting at least 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep per day, if your sleep is disrupted, or if you wake up not feeling refreshed, the above symptoms could signal that you have a problem. 

    Signs of Sleep Deprivation in Kids

    Children can lose out on sleep due to stress, anxiety, and mood disorders. Kids with ADHD or an autism spectrum disorder can have hectic sleep cycles that interfere with the quality of their sleep. In any case, signs your child is not getting enough sleep include:

    • Daytime sleepiness
    • Dark undereye circles
    • Inattention
    • Declining performance in school
    • Irritability
    • Hyperactivity
    • Moodiness
    • Impulse control issues
    • Aggressive behavior

    Like with adults, untreated sleep problems in kids can put them at risk of further health problems, like obesity, diabetes, and depression. Sleep-deprived kids may also miss more school days due to frequent infections caused by a weakened immune system. 

    What You Can Do

    Sleep deprivation is often a result of lifestyle choices. In that case, making sleep a priority can help you develop better habits that are conducive to sleep. For example, going to bed at an earlier time, not looking at screens before bedtime, and relaxation techniques are simple ways to address sleeplessness.

    In other cases, you might need to treat an underlying condition, especially if you suffer from a sleep disorder like chronic pain, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, or obstructive sleep apnea. But if you have milder problems that seem to interfere with sleep — like simple snoring, jet lag, or shift work  — then at-home remedies can work as well. 

    For example, sleeping on the side, not drinking alcohol before bedtime, and snoring mouthpieces in cases of chronic snoring. Snoring mouthpieces to consider include our  tongue-stabilizing devices, which are safe, effective, and ideal for non-apneic snoring. 




    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. Last updated February 16, 2016.https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html

    Duffy JF, Zitting KM, Czeisler CA. The Case for Addressing Operator Fatigue.Rev Hum Factors Ergon. 2015;10(1):29-78.doi:10.1177/1557234X15573949

    Hanson JA, Huecker MR. Sleep Deprivation. [Updated 2021 Jun 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547676/

    Williamson AM, Feyer AM. Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.Occup Environ Med. 2000;57(10):649-655.doi:10.1136/oem.57.10.649

    Worley SL. The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep: The Detrimental Effects of Inadequate Sleep on Health and Public Safety Drive an Explosion of Sleep Research.P T. 2018;43(12):758-763. 


    Gerber L. Sleep deprivation in children.Nursing Management (Springhouse). 2014; 45 (8): 22-28.doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000451997.95978.2f

    Also in Blog

    Should You Wake Someone Who Is Snoring?
    Should You Wake Someone Who Is Snoring?

    May 08, 2024 3 min read

    Your spouse, a friend, a roommate or a fellow passenger on a long flight is snoring, but should you wake someone in this state?
    Read More
    exhausted mom sleeping in bed
    A Mothers Vital Need for a Good Night's Sleep

    April 26, 2024 2 min read

    Read More
    man lying in bed with mouthpiece on night stand
    Do Mouthpieces Work for Sleep Apnea?

    April 23, 2024 3 min read

    An estimated 80% of people prescribed CPAP therapy don’t adhere to it and look for other forms of relief. Lucky for them, mouthpieces can be an effective sleep apnea solution.

    Read More