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How Sleep Deprivation Affects the Brain - PlushBeds

Sleep deprivation is a common medical condition affecting millions of Americans each day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is reported that 1 in 3 American adults report not getting enough sleep each night. Getting the minimum recommended hours of sleep each night is vital in maintaining your overall health and mental capabilities to lead a normal life.

What is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is classified as a person not being able to or not getting enough sleep at night. The average adult needs approximately 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to allow vital healing and restoring time to the body and brain. Living with sleep deprivation can lead to several health conditions, such as sleep apnea, mental health issues, and increased difficulty in fighting off infections.

Partial Sleep Deprivation

Partial sleep restriction is classified as not receiving quality sleep or enough sleep. This type of sleep deprivation goes unnoticed by most as it does not produce many symptoms; however, when partial sleep restriction grows to sleep deprivation, more symptoms are present in the body.

Total Sleep Deprivation

As partial sleep restriction goes unnoticed, it slowly progresses into total sleep deprivation. This condition leaves a sleep-deprived person to suffer from at least one night without sleep, and begins affecting a person’s short-term and long-term memory.

How Common is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is an extremely common condition affecting millions of Americans each year. Approximately 35% of adults report they are not getting enough sleep, often less than six hours to seven hours of sleep per night.

Getting too little sleep or too much sleep can be harmful, and result in disrupted sleep. Sleep specialists report the recommended hours of sleep, within 24 hours, per age at:

  • Newborn: 14 to 17 hours
  • Infant: 12 to 15 hours
  • Toddlers: 11 to 14 hours
  • Preschool: 10 to 13 hours
  • School-aged: 9 to 11 hours
  • Teenagers: 8 to 10 hours
  • Adults: 7 to 9 hours
  • Older adults: 7 to 8 hours

What are the Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation?

A person experiencing sleep deprivation in the early stages might not notice any symptoms. They are likely to believe it is just one night of a lack of sleep, and not think twice. However, as sleep difficulties progress, a person may experience:

Early Sleep Deprivation Symptoms

  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes or irritability
  • Trouble focusing
  • A decreased sex drive
  • A weakened immune system

Long-Term Sleep Deprivation Symptoms

  • Mental illness
  • Depression
  • Asthma
  • Stroke
  • Hallucinations
  • Serious sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, and narcolepsy

People living with uncontrolled sleep deprivation are also at an increased risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident, or work accident as a result of a decrease in focus, concentration, or decision-making abilities. Shift workers often report being sleep deprived as a result of a rotating schedule. It is important that shift workers still receive the recommended hours of sleep, whether it be at night or during daytime hours; however, many shift workers receive less than six hours per night.

What are the Causes of Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is not an illness in itself. It is often the result of one or more other illnesses or serious life events. Oftentimes, people sacrifice sleep to get other things done, such as schoolwork, chores around the house, or simply have some “quiet time” after putting the kids to bed.

As you reach adulthood, sleep experts recommend getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night - even into old age. Although older adults should maintain 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, many find themselves experiencing difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting restful sleep, leaving them to feel more tired the following morning.

Sleep deprivation is often the result of:

Sleep Disorders

Common sleep disorders including sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy have been linked to poor sleep and sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea, one of the most common sleep disorders, is marked by pauses in breathing throughout the night, making it more difficult for a person to get rejuvenating sleep.


As you age, many people report an increased difficulty sleeping. People aged 65 and older often find themselves having trouble sleeping at night as a result of certain prescription medications, health conditions, or simply age.


Many illnesses, whether it be a medical condition or mental health illness, have been known to increase the risk of developing sleep deprivation, either from the illness itself, or the medications prescribed to treat the condition. Conditions linked to sleep deprivation include depression, schizophrenia, cancer, chronic pain, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.


Other factors, such as an increase in stress, a change in work or daily schedule, or even a new baby have been known to be a contributing factor of sleep deprivation as the person’s “normal” is altered in some way.

What are the Effects of Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation can cause many harmful, unwanted effects, such as health issues, weight gain, obstructive sleep apnea, and a lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation effects can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening to a person - specifically a person suffering from chronic sleep deprivation.

Effects of sleep deprivation include:

Immune System

The immune system plays a vital role in helping to keep you safe, and protect the body from harmful viruses and infections by sending B lymphocytes to fight off the antigens detected with immunoglobulins. The immune system relies on a full night of sleep, as this allows this critical system time to rest. Total sleep deprivation leaves the immune system weakened, leaving a person more prone to infection, or making it more difficult to fight off infection. A lack of sleep also results in an increased risk of dangerous respiratory diseases.

Cardiovascular System

Restorative sleep helps the body to reset at the end of the day, essentially giving your body a “time out” after a long day. The body works hard throughout the day to maintain vital functions, including the cardiovascular system, which controls heart rate and blood pressure. Adequate sleep allows the body time to heal blood vessels, maintain blood pressure, blood sugar, and inflammation levels. Total sleep deprivation leaves a person at an increased risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.


Brain sleep deprivation effects can become highly dangerous to the person suffering. During REM sleep, the brain stem sends a signal to the rest of the body telling it that it is time to slow down, relax, and go to sleep, allowing for much-needed rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. When a person receives too little sleep, the prefrontal cortex, which handles reasoning, and the amygdala, which deals with emotional processing, are affected, making it more difficult for a person to function appropriately. In turn, sleep deprivation affects a person’s decision-making skills, makes it more difficult to form memories, and leads to learning difficulties.

Hormonal Changes

There are several types of hormones produced by the body, including reproductive hormones, stress hormones, hormones of the thyroid, and hormones allowing for enhanced sleep quality. When the body experiences a lack of sleep, hormone production is altered - specifically the production of norepinephrine and cortisol, which are responsible for regulating stress levels in the body.

Changes in Weight

Ghrelin is the hormone commonly referred to as the “hunger hormone”, as it plays a role in triggering the body to tell you when it is time to eat, or when your body has had enough food. Too little sleep, or total sleep deprivation affects the hormones responsible for controlling hunger and fullness triggers. It also triggers the release of insulin when it is not needed, increases fat storage, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, and ultimately leads to weight gain, as a person is unable to regulate hunger cues.

Safety Risks

Brain sleep deprivation effects leave a person unable to concentrate, pay attention, react quickly, or make sound decisions leaving a significant risk of experiencing a car accident, work injury, or other types of injury.

What Happens to Your Brain During Sleep?

To better understand sleep disorders and sleep deprivation, we must first try understanding sleep. Understanding sleep can seem difficult, but we have broken down what happens to the brain during sleep to help make it easier.

During the night, your body experiences several sleep cycles of Non-REM sleep and REM sleep (non-rapid-eye movement and rapid eye movement. During Non-REM sleep, the activity of the brain decreases, triggering all other body functions to decrease. However, during REM sleep, there is an increase in brain activity, which is where you experience vivid dreams.

The body cycles through several REM sleep and Non-REM sleep stages throughout the night, each of which produces different chemicals in the brain, triggering the body to slow enough to rest and heal, and ultimately triggering the body to wake.

How does Sleep Deprivation Affect the Brain?

A lack of quality sleep, insufficient sleep, or total sleep deprivation affects the brain in many ways, resulting in improper brain function and physical health. The brain, central nervous system, and body rely on adequate sleep to allow plenty of time to relax, and reset for the following day.

Poor sleep quality can be the result of insufficient sleep, not enough sleep, or total sleep deprivation, making it more difficult for the body to seamlessly transfer from one sleep cycle to the next in a healthy way.

In the short term, not receiving adequate sleep from acute sleep deprivation may present with less severe effects, such as pulling an occasional all-nighter, waking feeling more tired, or feeling slight fatigue throughout the day. One night of sleep deprivation is not a concern for most. In contrast, the long-term effects of sleep deprivation can be life-threatening, and make a significant impact on the daily life of a person. Long-term sleep deprivation increases the risk of a person experiencing a cognitive decline, resulting in Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

How is Sleep Deprivation Diagnosed?

Sleep specialists report there are five stages of sleep deprivation. As sleep restriction progresses to total sleep deprivation, the body’s ability to perform healthy functions becomes significantly impaired.

A sleep specialist will begin by conducting a physical examination as well as inquiring about your current symptoms, past medical history, including any neurological disorders you may suffer from, and determine if further testing is needed. If the sleep specialist feels you may be suffering from neurological disorders, resulting in sleep deprivation, a consultation with a neurologist will be sent. Similarly, if your doctor feels you are suffering from sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, you will be referred for polysomnography.

Polysomnography is commonly referred to as a sleep study. During this type of testing, a highly trained technician will place several wires and monitors on various parts of the body to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, brain activity, body movements, and pauses in breathing. Once the test has been completed, you will receive a score to determine if you are suffering from sleep apnea, or other sleep disorders, and how severe it is.

Healthy sleep is vital in maintaining normal brain basics and mental health. If you find yourself struggling with sleep loss, sleep restriction, or are only sleeping a few hours each night - reach out to a sleep specialist for help.

What is the Treatment for Sleep Deprivation?

Treatment for sleep deprivation is dependent upon many factors, including the current symptoms, severity, past medical history, and doctor preference. In mild cases of sleep deprivation, your physician may ask you to try at-home treatment with the use of over-the-counter sleep medicines, meditation, or avoiding certain foods and drinks for approximately 3 hours before bedtime.

If your sleep deprivation has been scored as severe, a sleep specialist may recommend the following:

Prescription Medication

If OTC medications are proven to be unsuccessful in treating your sleep deprivation, prescription medication may be provided. These include:

  • Ambien
  • Butisol
  • Restoril


Alternative therapy treatment options may include acupuncture, regular massages, melatonin, meditation, or yoga.

Behavioral and Cognitive Treatment

If prescriptions have been contraindicated or are unwanted in an attempt to treat sleep deprivation, your sleep specialist may recommend certain forms of behavioral and cognitive therapy to include:

  • Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Sleep apps
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Frequently-Asked Questions

Is Sleep Deprivation a Disease?

Sleep deprivation in itself is not a disease process. It is often caused by a medical condition, sleep disorder, or life-altering or stressful events, such as a work schedule change, or grief.

What is the Most Common Sign of Sleep Deprivation?

There are many signs of sleep deprivation; however, the most commonly reported symptom of this serious condition is daytime drowsiness, or daytime fatigue. If you find yourself feeling more tired than usual during the day, it may be time to talk to your doctor.

Do I Have to Take Medicine for Sleep Deprivation?

There are many forms of treatment for sleep deprivation, depending on the severity. If you are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of sleep deprivation, the use of therapy, meditation, acupuncture, or OTC Benadryl may be beneficial - or something as simple as purchasing a new mattress, pillow, or bedding.

Tips to Prevent Sleep Deprivation

Sleep experts have joined together to help the millions of Americans suffering from sleep deprivation with tips and tricks to prevent this life-changing, potentially fatal sleep disorder, and the many unwanted side effects that come with it.

If you find yourself drinking coffee or caffeinated beverages before bedtime, it is recommended to stop. Sleep specialists recommend limiting the intake of caffeine, nicotine, and alcoholic beverages a few hours before bedtime in an effort to reduce the number of chemicals in the body as your brain tries to slow itself down.

Another commonly reported at-home trick to helping reduce the risk of sleep deprivation is to ensure you are receiving 30 minutes of exercise regularly. Experts believe going for a walk or doing some type of exercise for 30 minutes per day, approximately 6 hours before bedtime, will reduce the risk of developing sleep restriction or sleep deprivation.

At PlushBeds, we understand the frustration that comes along with insufficient sleep, as the human brain relies on sleep to restore the mind and body. In an effort to combat obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, and other harmful sleep disorders, we have handcrafted high-quality bedding products to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. We offer several different mattress options, pillows, mattress toppers, and bedding that go through rigorous testing to ensure purity and quality.

PlushBeds products have achieved several certifications including:

  • GOLS Certified organic latex
  • GOTS Certified organic cotton
  • GOTS Certified organic wool
  • USDA Organic
  • GreenGuard Gold certification

By receiving these seldomly attained certifications, we can ensure all mattresses, mattress toppers, and pillows are made using the most efficient, eco-friendly, and most of all safe material available. The average adult who receives the recommended minimum number of hours of sleep per night spends approximately 8 hours of the 24 hour day in bed - why not spend that time on a comfortable and healthy mattress?

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