Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Health and Wellbeing

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is vital for good health and well-being. However, many people do not get enough quality sleep. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts physical health, mental health, cognitive performance, work productivity, and quality of life.

In this blog article, we will discover and examine the research on how insufficient sleep harms health and well-being.

What is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation refers to getting insufficient sleep. It involves sleeping too few hours, and/or having poor quality sleep.

Acute sleep deprivation means not getting enough sleep on an occasional basis or for a single night. Chronic sleep deprivation refers to routinely not getting adequate sleep over longer periods of time.

Sleep deprivation can be:

  • Quantitative – Not sleeping long enough (sleeping fewer than 7-9 hours for adults)
  • Qualitative – Poor quality sleep even if duration is adequate (fragmented sleep, waking frequently)
  • Complete deprivation – No sleep for at least 24 hours

Sleep insufficiency has become an epidemic. Around 35% of adults in the US report getting less than the recommended 7 hours nightly. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts nearly every aspect of health and wellbeing. Understanding healthy sleep needs and prioritizing sleep can help reduce risks.

As we all know, Sleep is just as critical to good health as diet and exercise. During sleep, the body and brain undergo many vital processes that are essential for optimal functioning and well-being.

Sleep deprivation disrupts these vital processes and can have profound detrimental effects.

Both the quantity and quality of sleep matter. The recommended amount of sleep for healthy adults is 7-9 hours per night. However, an estimated 35% of adults in the United States get less than 7 hours of sleep per night (1). Insufficient sleep duration as well as poor sleep quality, negatively affect health.

effects of less sleep

Physical Health Effects

Not getting adequate sleep can take a heavy toll on physical health in many ways. Sleep deprivation is linked to an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, infections, diabetes, cancer, and premature death.


Insufficient sleep increases the risk of weight gain, obesity, and related illnesses. Several large epidemiological studies show strong associations between short sleep duration and increased body mass index (BMI) (2, 3).

Sleeping less than 7 hours per night is linked to increased hunger and appetite, higher calorie intake, reduced ability to lose weight, and increased obesity risk (4, 5, 6).

The underlying causes are complex but involve effects on appetite hormones, more time and opportunity to eat, and disrupted metabolism. Getting insufficient sleep can result in weight gain over time.

Cardiovascular Disease

Sleep deprivation also negatively impacts heart health. Short sleep duration is associated with increased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, inflammation, hardened arteries, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke (7, 8).

One analysis found a 45% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease in individuals sleeping less than 7 hours versus 8 hours nightly (9). The risk of stroke may be 4.5 times higher in those sleeping less than 6 hours per night (10).


Inadequate sleep affects glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, which can trigger or worsen diabetes. Reduced sleep duration is linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 28% (11). Once diabetes develops, optimal sleep may also help manage the disease.

Immune Function

Sleep strengthens immune system functioning, whereas sleep deprivation weakens immunity. Even a small loss of just 1-2 hours of sleep for a single night can greatly reduce immune response (12). Shortened sleep increases susceptibility to the common cold as well as bacterial, viral, and fungal infections (13).


Long-term sleep deprivation may raise the risk of cancer. Several cancers including prostate, breast, colorectal, and ovarian cancer have been associated with habitual short sleep durations (14).

The proposed mechanisms relate to impaired immune functioning and disruption of circadian rhythm from insufficient sleep.

Premature Death

All of these detrimental health effects add up. In the long run, chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of early death. A large review found that short sleepers have a 12% greater risk of dying prematurely compared to those getting 7-8 hours of sleep (15).

The impacts of insufficient sleep on physical health are far-reaching. Prioritizing healthy sleep duration and quality can help reduce risks and longevity.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation inforgraphic

Mental Health Effects

In addition to physical health consequences, not getting enough sleep also takes a toll on mental health. Sleep deprivation is linked to mood disorders, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and suicide.


Even small reductions in sleep duration can negatively affect mood. After just one night of reduced sleep, otherwise healthy individuals exhibit more anger, tension, confusion, and fatigue (16). Chronic mild sleep restriction increasingly exacerbates these mood disturbances over time.


Anxiety commonly disrupts sleep, but lack of sleep also exacerbates anxiety. Increased anxiety after sleep deprivation may result from amplified anticipation of threats in the amygdala region of the brain (17). Anxiety levels are higher in both adults and children with insufficient sleep compared to those getting healthy sleep amounts (18,19).


Insufficient sleep and depression mutually reinforce each other. Sleep disturbances increase the risk of developing depression, while depression disrupts sleep (20). Treatment of co-occurring mood disorders and sleep disturbances together is most effective.

Cognitive Decline

Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to long-term cognitive decline and impaired performance (21). Disrupted rapid eye movement (REM) and slow wave sleep from shortened sleep contribute to Alzheimer’s disease pathology (22). Among older women, sleeping 5 or fewer hours doubled the risk of developing dementia (23).


Extreme sleep loss may increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Military personnel who attempted suicide slept 1.5 hours less on average than those who did not (24). The authors propose that acute sleep deprivation leads to agitated hopelessness, increasing suicide risk.

The impacts of insufficient sleep on mental health and cognition are pervasive. Adequate, healthy sleep helps maintain emotional well-being and brain function.

woman in bed because of stress

Effects on Performance

In the short term, skimping on sleep reduces performance and productivity. Chronic insufficient sleep exerts an even heavier toll on work and school performance.

Cognitive Performance

Even modest nightly sleep reductions degrade a wide range of cognitive skills, including attention, memory, processing speed, creativity, and decision-making (25, 26).

Performance impairments become more severe with increased sleep deprivation. Just a single all-nighter harms cognition as much as being legally drunk (27).

Driving & Accidents

Drowsy driving causes thousands of motor vehicle accident deaths each year (28). Being awake for 18 hours impairs driving ability equivalently to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05%.

After 24 hours awake, driving skill resembles a 0.10% BAC over the legal limit. Sleep deprivation dangerously impairs driving reaction time, vigilance, and judgment.

Work & School

Insufficient sleep reduces work productivity and performance. Sleep-deprived individuals have lower motivation, take longer to finish tasks, and make more mistakes (29, 30). Students getting inadequate sleep have worse academic performance, concentration, memory, and behavior (31,32).

The detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance and productivity are far-reaching. Prioritizing sufficient healthy sleep enhances effectiveness in everyday work and activities.

sleep deprived man at work in office

Wellbeing & Quality of Life

Beyond specific health and performance consequences, insufficient sleep also degrades broader well-being and quality of life. People report worse daily functioning, poorer relationships, less job satisfaction, reduced optimism, and lower happiness without adequate sleep.

Daily Functioning

Too little sleep impairs the ability to carry out daily activities. Adults getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night are more likely to report difficulty performing core activities of daily living compared to those sleeping 7-8 hours (33). Sleepiness reduces motivation, energy, and capability to function well throughout the day.

Social & Work Relationships

Interpersonal relationships often suffer from moodiness, impatience, and impaired communication associated with lost sleep. People getting shorter sleep report lower relationship satisfaction and social integration (34, 35). Insufficient sleep also increases job dissatisfaction and interpersonal conflict at work (36).

Life Satisfaction

Those deprived of sleep have diminished overall wellbeing including lower life satisfaction. Adults sleeping less than 6 hours nightly are more dissatisfied with their lives compared to adults getting 6-9 hours of sleep (37).

Poor sleep quality has an even stronger link with reduced life satisfaction (38).

Optimism & Happiness

Positive psychological attributes like optimism and happiness erode without healthy sleep. Younger adults sleeping less than 6 hours exhibit lower optimism, hope, and positive emotions (39).

Among older adults, those getting under 7 hours of sleep report the lowest levels of happiness and optimism (40).

Insufficient sleep exerts a heavy toll on overall well-being and satisfaction. Protecting sleep time and quality helps maintain healthy relationships, optimism, and happiness.

How to Improve Sleep

If you struggle with insufficient sleep, there are many ways to improve both sleep duration and quality:

  • Stick to consistent bed and wake times, even on weekends
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day
  • Limit alcohol which disrupts sleep
  • Turn off screens and stop working at least 1 hour before bedtime
  • Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime
  • Relax before bed with a bath, music, meditation, or reading
  • Go to sleep when sleepy and remove distractions
  • Consider cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)
  • Ask your doctor if any medications you take affect sleep
  • Get evaluated for underlying issues like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, chronic pain, or mood disorders

Making healthy sleep a priority can help you get the rest you need to function your best and feel your best. Protecting sleep enhances overall health and happiness.


In summary, sleep deprivation has extensive detrimental effects on nearly all aspects of health, well-being, and performance. Not getting enough quality sleep increases the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, infections, diabetes, cancer, and early death.

Mental health equally suffers, with links to mood disorders, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and suicide risk. Insufficient sleep also impairs productivity and performance at work, school, and while driving. And short sleep duration degrades broader measures of wellbeing like optimism, relationships, and life satisfaction.

Prioritizing sufficient, high-quality sleep time is essential for protecting both physical and mental health. The recommended amount of sleep for healthy adults is 7-9 hours per night. Following sleep hygiene principles like maintaining a consistent bedtime, limiting caffeine, and reducing blue light exposure from screens at night helps enhance sleep.

Treating underlying issues like anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and chronic health conditions is also beneficial. Supporting healthy sleep provides profound whole-body benefits that enhance well-being and longevity. Learn here more about deprivation effects and tips for getting the best sleep.