Shocking Side Effects of Sleep
Deprivation & How to Overcome Them

by Adam G

sleep deprivation headache

Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for healthy living. As you doze off, your body begins to recover from the day’s activities. Damaged cells begin to heal and your immune system starts to recover. Getting enough sleep also supports healthy brain function and fights off depression and anxiety symptoms.

We’ve all experienced the side effects of sleep deprivation. You most likely had a hard time concentrating at work or school. You may have lashed out at coworkers and your production level severely decreased. A lack of sleep may have even brought on a panic attack or a nervous breakdown.

According to a study by the Rand Corporation, sleep deprivation costs the US economy $411 billion dollars each year. This is attributed to an annual loss of around 1.2 million working days due to a lack of sleep. For many of you, fatigue has become a part of your personality. You probably can’t remember the last time you had 8 hours of undisrupted sleep.

Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation

According to Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at University of California, sleep deprivation and insomnia are nearing epidemic proportions. In an interview with The Guardian, Walker points out that in 1942, less than 8% of the population was trying to survive on six hours of sleep or less. In 2017, almost one in two people are.

What changed during these past 75 years? Even though we experience the side effects of sleep deprivation daily, why do we keep staying up late?

Walker explains that our fast-paced lifestyle is to blame. We are working longer hours and commuting further. We don’t want to give up on family time or our friends. We are constantly in front of our phones, computers, and TVs. Stress and anxiety control our lives, and we’re refueling on caffeine.

To us, a busy lifestyles seem to outweigh a lack of sleep. But what we don’t understand is how badly we’re damaging our quality of life and quickly heading towards a burnout.

Causes Serious Health Problems

Sleep Deprivation has serious side effects on your nervous system. Your nervous system becomes strained, putting you at risk for high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, and depression.

After just one night of only 5 hours of sleep, the cells that naturally kill cancer drop by nearly 70 percent. A lack of sleep is also linked to bowel, prostate, and breast cancer.

Affects Thinking and Learning

Sleep deprivation affects the brain in various ways. It diminishes attention, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving.  This obviously affects your productivity and work performance.

Also, your brain enforces what you learned throughout the day while you sleep. When you’re overly tired, the neurons in your nervous system are overworked and have a hard time completing this process. This side effect decreases your memory and the ability to learn new skills.

Causes Weight Gain

According to a 2008 study, the recent obesity epidemic is concurrent with the rise in sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to feeling fatigued, which leads to less physical activity. It has also been linked to a rise in hormones that stimulate appetite.

Decreases Sex Drive

Another side effect of sleep deprivation is a decreased sex drive. Testosterone is a hormone that majorly affects your sex drive. Researchers have found that sleep deprivation drastically lowers testosterone levels.

In a 2011 study, researchers found that after one week of 5 hours per sleep a night, young men had 15 percent less testosterone than usual. This decrease is equal to the amount of testosterone lost over 15 years of aging.

Sleep deprivation also affects women as well. In a different study, researchers found that women with sleep apnea were more likely to experience sexual distress. These same women also reported sexual dysfunction more than the general population.

Ages Your Skin

After a night of minimal sleep, most people experience puffy eyes and dark circles that go away within a few hours. However, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to more serious side effects.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone, cortisol. High cortisol levels increase inflammation in the body. This inflammation not only causes breakouts, but ages your skin.

How to Overcome Sleep Deprivation  

Most doctors are quick to prescribe sleeping pills. However, these pills can have serious, and sometimes deadly side effects. By making a few adjustments in your daily routine, you can overcome sleep deprivation.

Increase Your Melatonin Production

During a 24-hour period, each of us produces melatonin, which controls when we go to sleep and when we wake up. This cycle is called the circadian rhythm and it is very sensitive light and stress.

To increase your melatonin levels, try increasing your sunlight exposure. Take a ten-minute walk in the morning or during your lunch break.  Make sure that your room is dark when you go to sleep, and try not to check your phone or computer 2-3 hours before crawling into bed.

Investing in a weighted blanket is also a good idea. Weighted blankets put pressure on the body’s sensory receptors, soothing the nervous system and regulating hormone production.

Researchers found that after using a weighted blanket, serotonin levels increased by 28%, and dopamine by 31%. Not only do these “happy hormones” have a positive effect on your mood, but serotonin directly affects melatonin production. When serotonin levels are high, melatonin production increases.

Decrease Your Cortisol Levels

Melatonin isn’t the only hormone that fluctuates with our sleep and wake schedules. Cortisol also plays a role in our internal clock. During the day, your cortisol levels increase in order to pause melatonin production. Levels are supposed to decrease at night, but if you’re stressed, they do not. This misaligns your melatonin and cortisol levels, throwing off your sleep schedule.

To keep your stress levels under control, try incorporating meditation, yoga, exercise, or journaling into your daily routine.


Sleep deprivation has serious side effects. Memory, health, and quality of life are all affected. Put an end to this cycle and start getting your sleep schedule back on track. Your body will thank you later.

Adam G
Adam G

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