In medical circles, the concept of sleep still remains one of the most elusive and least understood topics, which is ironic because at least one third of our lives are spent in this state.

Today we are going to break down the concept and have a scrutinizing look at some of the chemical and biological reasons as to why sleep is so important in our lives and the reasons for sleep deprivation, along with the inevitable consequences of such.


Sleep deprivation basically refers to a state in which an individual does not get an adequate amount of sleep. Here are some of the reasons why this happens.


There has been a lot of research to suggest that students are especially susceptible to one or more forms of sleep deprivation, owing to their extremely busy schedules, very early classes and extensive course syllabuses.

The studies show that most of the students during their early years of college receive less than the optimum amount of sleep, leading to a downfall in class performance and examination grades.


By far, the most common reason for sleep deprivation is a condition known as insomnia. An individual suffering from insomnia will experience a variety of symptoms such as headaches, constant irritation, frustration, headaches, overpowering day-time sleepiness, a lack of focus, inability to remain attentive and having mood swings.

There are two basic types of insomnia.


This sleep disorder is categorized into three types:


The is considered to be brought about by a heightened state of anxiety or stress.


This has more of a neurological cause. It is thought be a result of a chemical imbalance in the part of the brain that regulate our sleep-wake cycle. This type of insomnia begins in childhood and lasts till death.

Sleep state misperception

This is not as common as the other two. It is a state where the person believes that they are not getting enough sleep even though they are.


Also known as comorbid insomnia is a condition that has a correlation with the occurrence of other neurological or psychological conditions within the body at the same time. Although this does not necessarily imply causation, there is a strong link nonetheless.


Sleep deprivation is most commonly observed in patients with mood disorders such as a bipolar disorder and in fact has been shown to bring about the onset and enforce incidences of manic episodes in susceptible individuals.


Sometimes the case may be that the person does not want to sleep in order to maximize their working hours or utilize the time to do other constructive tasks instead. This habit is often reinforced by the willful use of stimulant drugs.

In the short term, this may seem like a good idea but it usually leads to the accumulation of “sleep debt” which can cause a variety of problems later on.


This is a sleep disorder in which individuals experience moments during their sleep where they cease to breathe. Sometimes the breathing becomes more shallow and other times it stops entirely. This happens throughout the night in a lot of cases and the moments of breathlessness can last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

There are three types of sleep apnea:


The upper airway collapses, blocking the airflow. This is, by far, the most common form of sleep apnea and is predominantly found in overweight individuals. Other contributing factors include having enlarged tonsils or a small airway.


The central nervous system fails to properly signal the body to breathe and therefore there is no effort on the part of the individual to draw breath.


As the name suggests, it is a mixture of the aforementioned types. In such cases, the patient is initially thought to only suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. However, after treatment, the central sleep apnea makes itself known.


The documented effects of sleep deprivation are wide ranging, differing greatly between individuals from differing demographics, geographical locations, age groups, genders and races.

Constant yawning and drowsiness are the most obvious symptoms and are a fair indication that you need more sleep. Individuals may experience irritability, anger outbursts and elevated stress due to an increase in the levels of the steroid hormone, Cortisol, in the body. Cortisol is also known as the “stress hormone” for obvious reasons.

The emotional outbursts are due to the fact that a lack of sleep inhibits the ability of the prefrontal cortex (the part that controls our reasoning) to control the Amygdala (the emotion center of our brain). This makes our emotions go awry and out of control like a rabid animal without a leash.

As the sleep deprivation progresses, individuals may experience headaches, ranging from mild to moderate, which are accompanied by very obvious eye bags, otherwise known as “periorbital puffiness”.

Confusion/lack of concentration: Your brain needs sleep to keep functioning at full capacity. If you’re not getting enough sleep, neural pathways in the central nervous system are affected which can affect your thinking negatively. It can lead to an inability to grasp information about things you’re hearing or seeing.

It can also lead to impaired motor functions and result in lack of coordination between different body parts. This is especially dangerous if you’re driving and can be a cause for road traffic accidents. Avoid driving at all costs, if you haven’t gotten enough sleep. Your balance may be affected too which means you may even find it difficult to walk properly despite a lack of apparent drowsiness.

Anxiety and depression are fairly common in people who suffer from chronic insomnia. Sleep deprivation sometimes usually precedes the occurrence of manic episodes. These may be individuals who are already prone to it, in which case the insomnia sleep play a role in the genesis of the onset. While in other cases, the sleep deprivation itself may be the root cause of the mania.

In certain extreme cases, individuals experience paranoia, which are sometimes accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations.

Memory loss: Sleep is necessary in order for the brain to effectively retain information and keep it in long-term storage. A lack of sleep often interrupts this process which can lead to unexplained lapses in memory.

Memory loss: Sleep is necessary in order for the brain to effectively retain information and keep it in long-term storage. A lack of sleep often interrupts this process which can lead to unexplained lapses in memory.

Higher risk of type 2 diabetes: Lack of sleep can inhibit the body’s natural release of insulin which regulates our blood glucose level. As a result, sleep deprived individuals sometimes accumulate a higher level of sugar in their blood.

There is a marked increase in blood pressure which are often a factor in heart diseases.

Lower libido: Studies show that a lack of sleep can lead to a drop in the levels of testosterone in males, resulting in a low sex drive.

Now, the body does realize when the need for sleep becomes critically important and this results in Microsleep. Microsleep happens when the body overrides whatever part of your brain is inhibiting your sleep cycle and without knowing it, you actually fall asleep for a few seconds to a few minutes.

Typically the person remains completely unaware of the few moments of stolen sleep. Now, this seems like a good thing as it allows the body and mind to keep functioning without breaking down but imagine having bouts of microsleep when you’re driving or climbing down a set of stairs.


Depending upon the severity of the condition and the underlying cause, differing treatment plans may be implemented.

The priority is to avoid the use of medication and focus on the behavioral aspect in order to treat it. A counselor or therapist can employ a number of techniques.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective tool in bringing about changes to a person’s lifestyle that can result in healthier sleeping patterns. This is achieved by helping the individual understand the underlying thought processes that led to that situation in the first place and then encouraging the patient to adopt certain changes in their mental thought process that will eliminate those negative behaviors.

This is a long-term process and it yields effective results if persisted on for a particular span of time.

This form of therapy is often accompanied by certain relaxation exercises. A combination of some basic breathing techniques, long inhales and exhales intended to calm the person’s mind. This varies from person to person.

Some people feel relaxed after clenching and unclenching, contracting and relaxing a certain set of muscles in the body while others feel that a more intense workout regimen in the gym works better.

Some therapists make use of particular images and audio which has a calming effect on the individual in question. For others still, there are meditative practices that work better.

Counselors often ask patients to exercise some stimulation control which allows them to form associations with sleepiness. So a person avoiding video games past a certain curfew, before their bedtime would form a connection between lack of videogames and feeling sleepy provided he or she sticks to it for a long enough time.

Medication is obviously a big part of treating physical and mental illnesses and it holds true for sleep deprivation as well.

There are a lot of supplements being marketed which are claimed to treat sleep deprivation. A lot of them are available without a prescription (antihistamines) but it is best to consult your doctor before using any of those.

A lot of the medication regulates our levels of melatonin which is a substance that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Some affect the level of serotonin (known as the happy hormone) which can relieve stress and indirectly lead to a more fulfilling sleep.

There are natural foods that have a high level of melatonin in them and can be used instead of synthetic medicines.

Darkness triggers the release of melatonin naturally in the body. With all the artificial lighting in our homes now a days, it’s very easy for the levels to go out of balance. This is why it is best if your turn off all the lights in your room before going to sleep as it will encourage the release of melatonin.

Other medication directly induces sleep , working more or less like a sedative. Antidepressants like trazodone have been shown to help patients sleep better, especially in cases when the cause of sleep deprivation was linked to anxiety.

Benzodiazepines stay in the system longer and are used in extreme cases. It may be prescribed to a patient who suffers from somnambulism (sleep walking) or experiences night terrors.

There is a possibility and quite often a probability, of the individual becoming dependant on this medication which can cause a lot of problems.

Others drugs include Doxepine (allows patients to stay asleep) and Eszopiclone (helps patients in falling asleep quicker).

Ramelteon is a drug that regulates the sleep wake cycle of the individual and does not foster dependency which makes it a suitable candidate for long term use.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can counteract the effects of sleep deprivation and give you an energy boost that will keep your functioning at optimum capacity. However, this is a short-term band-aid and cannot combat the effects of chronic sleep deprivation.


The average human being requires at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night in order to fully recuperate. For some people this isn’t possible, either due to overworking, young children, school etc.

If the person gets less sleep than required on a daily basis, the body cannot ignore the deficit. It starts to accumulate and after a while it can cause a variety of problems including mental and physical fatigue.

The only way to get rid of our sleep debt is to pay it back, bit by bit. If you have been sleeping only 5 hours a day, you need start sleeping more. By more, we mean more than the average amount a person needs. So, instead of the usual 8, you should sleep 9 hours because you have to pay off that debt.
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