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The Chilling Effects of Sleep Deprivation

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By: burgundy bug

A tired Clock Guy gives menacing side eye

Source: My Brain 23 | Penelope Peru Photography

As you’re laying in bed, toughing it through another night of your thoughts running laps around your brain, you glance over at your phone. The clock reads “5:24 AM.” You have to be up by 6:00, but you haven’t slept a wink all night.

With a sigh, you retire the idea of catching any sleep that night. “Alright, I’ll just take a nap this afternoon,” you say to yourself as you shuffle to sit up.

Afternoon comes and goes without a moment to spare for sleep. You’re running on nothing but caffeine and adrenaline at this point. Exhausted, you can’t wait to come home this evening.

Your head, now bearing the weight of the world as it rests delicately upon your shoulders, finally meets your alluring, cushy pillow.

…And yet, it happens again. Your mind begins to wander and before you realize it’s almost 6:00 AM again after yet another sleepless night.

Whether you’re restless or relentlessly binge-studying (or binge-watching TV) all night long, sleep deprivation takes a major toll on your body both cognitively and physically.

Animated short film about a student falling asleep during an afternoon class

Source: Afternoon Class – Animation Short Film (2014) | Osro

Yet, we live in a society where sleep is rarely viewed as a priority. 35 percent of adults in the United States sleep less than the recommended seven hours of per night, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

Gallup polls from over the years reflect the decline in how much sleep Americans get each night. In 1942, 14 percent of adults surveyed slept nine hours or more each night. By 2013, only five percent of adults surveyed slept nine or more hours each night.

What is Sleep Deprivation?

“Sleep deprivation occurs when inadequate sleep leads to decreased performance, inadequate alertness, and deterioration in health.”

Sleep Deprivation | Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America 

Although the importance of sleep in humans has been under the microscope for decades, the most logical reasons behind our need for sleep include: energy conservation, energy restoration, and information processing, reports the Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America.

Recommended Hours of Sleep Each Night

Beige cow sleeping next to a tree stump

Source: Sleep Cow & Tree Stump | Penelope Peru Photography

Sleep needs vary depending on your age, according to the CDC. In a 24 hour period, teenagers between the ages of 13 to 18 years old need eight to 10 hours of sleep per night.

The amount of sleep needed each night slightly decreases with age. Adults between the ages of 18 to 60 need at least eight hours of sleep per night, where seniors 65 and older need about seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Clock Guy: “I’m falling asleep out here.”

Source: Sketchbook Tour // Oct. – Dec. 2018 | Penelope Peru Photography

Cognitive Effects of Sleep Deprivation

“Sleep deprivation is commonplace in modern society, but its far-reaching effects on cognitive performance are only beginning to be understood from a scientific perspective.”

Source: Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition | Progress in Brain Research

Long-term sleep deprivation is linked to memory impairments, declines in learning ability, in addition to other behavioral and emotional deficits, states research published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Their study consisted of otherwise “healthy” college students who were divided into a sleep deprived group as well as a control group of well-rested individuals.

After one night of sleep deprivation, the participants showed a higher response to short-term reward stimuli and had a greater reliance on habit over goal-oriented decision making. They were also more likely to make risky choices.

“This raises an assumption that the detrimental effects of sleep loss on decision-making are, at least in part, due to impairments in perception and the application of feedback information,” the study says.

Another study published in Current Opinion in Neurobiology found chronic sleep deprivation leads to long-term changes in the structure of the brain, which affect arousal, attention, memory, and the stability of cognitive states.

The physiological changes in the brain showed a decrease in connectivity of the default mode network, and a decrease in cerebral blood flow to the frontoparietal network in patients who were drowsy.

Sleep deprivation also increases the likelihood of developing “false memories,” says a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research. Those who were sleep deprived for just one night were more likely to rely on misinformation during memory retrieval.

“Insufficient sleep is a known trigger of anxiety.”

Sex, Sleep Deprivation, and the Anxious Brain | Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

Although sleep deprivation triggers anxiety in both women and men, women are more likely to experience anxiety than men, according to research published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Anxiety and sleep deprivation also feed into one another. While sleep deprivation leads to anxiety, anxiety is a common cause of sleep deprivation in the first place, reports the National Sleep Foundation.

Additionally, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says anxiety can increase the symptoms of an underlying sleep disorder.

What Are Sleep Disorders

“Sleep disorders involve problems with the quality, timing and amount of sleep, which cause problems with functioning and distress during the daytime.”

American Psychiatric Association

More than 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders, states the ADAA.

There are a variety of sleep disorders, including insomnia, narcolepsy, hypersomnolence disorder, breathing-related disorders, and parasomnias, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Of these sleep disorders, insomnia is the most common, affecting about 10 percent of the general population, the National Sleep Foundation reports.

Additionally, 30 percent of the general population report sleep disruptions but don’t qualify for the diagnosis of insomnia.

Panel 1
Clock Guy: “Why am I only ever awake at the most unusual times?”

Panel 2
Clock Guy: “And exhausted when it actually matters?”

Source: My Brain 10 | Penelope Peru Photography

Physical Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation isn’t just bad for the brain. It can have a wide range of effects throughout your entire body from your immune system down to your sex drive. Research published in Biological Psychiatry found those who sleep less than seven hours per night had a 12 percent higher mortality rate.

The functioning of our immune system is directly linked with sleep, according to Physiological Reviews. Sleeping allows the immune system to protect our body, whereas a lack of sleep affects the hormones associated with immune functioning and may lead to autoimmune disorders, as well as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Sleep deprivation also weakens the body’s response to vaccinations.

A review published in Progress in Molecular Biology found chronic sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Sleep deprivation also decreases sex drive and satisfaction in both men and women, reports a study published in Sleep Science.

Poor sleep highly correlated with unstimulated sexual arousal in both men and women with higher levels of testosterone in their study. Women with lower levels of testosterone were less satisfied with sex overall. However, the quality of their sleep did not show a significant impact on sexual desire or how much sex they reported having in the last month.

That isn’t to say a lack of sleep won’t impact sexual frequency, as partners who are chronically fatigued may be too tired to perform in the sheets.

In Conclusion

A nervous Clock Guy

Source: My Brain 19 | Penelope Peru Photography

Sleep disorders affect about 40 million Americans and over a third report getting less than the recommended amount of sleep each night.

Chronic sleep deprivation changes the structure of your brain, leading to impaired memory, a weakened attention span, and a decrease in judgement. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders also run hand in hand with anxiety.

Physically, sleep deprivation is linked with a weight gain, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, a decreased sex drive, and higher mortality rates.

While one sleepless night won’t kill you, it’ll impair your focus and decision making abilities. It may also leave you physically fatigued or more irritable.

As those sleepless nights begin to add up, you’ll begin altering the structure of your brain in a way that’ll negatively impact your daily cognitive functioning.

So put the phone down and give hitting the hay a try. Still can’t sleep? Go check out our “Night Owl’s Guide to Staying Up All Night.”

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com

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