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Sleep Deprivation and Quality of Life

Updated on June 6, 2021
Sam Shepards profile image

I'm Sam. I enjoy writing about sleep and mental health-related topics as well as ways to prevent stress and to relax.

Not getting enough sleep on a particular night, leaving you sleepy and unfocused the following day is completely different from being sleep deprived.

Sleep is essential to your health, mental wellness, brain function, and emotional stability. It helps us organize and cement our memories, affects our ability to learn, and ensures a strong and fully functioning immune system.

Those who regularly do not get enough sleep, either because of a sleep disorder like insomnia, sleep paralysis, or sleep apnea or because of lifestyle choices, will experience not just occasional drowsiness, but very real physical and mental symptoms. Being sleep deprived can seriously affect your quality of life.

Mental Function and Sleep Deprivation

Anyone who has ever had to pull an all-nighter or has only gotten a few hours of sleep knows how not getting enough sleep can limit your ability to function properly. It may simply take you longer to recall facts and figures, to formulate sentences, and to learn new information.

The worse sleep deprivation gets, the worse these symptoms become. It feels as though your brain is only partially functioning. You don’t just feel a little foggy—you feel like you entire brain is malfunctioning.

You may not even feel particularly tired at the moment, and yet you still will not be able to perform as highly as you would have been able to perform were you not sleep deprived.

Studies have shown that getting just an hour less than you need every night can reduce your alertness by nearly 33%. Compound this number by how many hours of sleep you lose every night and how many nights in a row you get that little amount of sleep, and you find yourself with barely any alertness at all.

This can seriously affect your ability to function in a workplace, to build relationships, to stay on top of normal daily tasks, and so on. While most people think that they will eventually collapse and “catch up” on sleep, the reality is that most people who are chronically sleep deprived never really get the opportunity to catch up on the sleep they have been missing.


Loss of Sleep and Memory Problems

Not all of us might have perfect memories, but you will begin to notice if your memory starts to slip. It will be impossible to remember what you need to remember. More importantly, it will be impossible to cement new memories.

The body desperately needs sleep, it uses sleep to organize information assimilated throughout the day (and dreams may be related, in some way, to the categorizing and filing of this information). Without the appropriate amount of time to file away information, the brain will eventually start deleting it.

How does this affect your quality of life? You may find it impossible to learn the names of the people around you. It will be very difficult to learn a new skill. The things that people tell you, events from their own lives, important dates, etc. will not be filed and you will not be able to recall them. You may not start to notice this at first, but as it happens more and more frequently, it can become a very real issue.

Injuries Caused by Drowsiness

Drowsiness is as dangerous in the workplace as it is on the road. More than 100,000 accidents are caused each year simply by people who are driving while drowsy and that is a very conservative estimate.

These accidents cause tens of thousands of fatalities every single year, and many thousands more are injured. These injuries significantly reduce your quality of life. Making it difficult or impossible to work and taking away your ability to participate in the activities that you love are both possibilities when it comes to these types of injuries.

General Sleep Related Health Issues

The very real effects of sleep deprivation on your physical health are manifold. Just some of the most common issues that arrive from chronic sleep deprivation include: diabetes, stroke, heart failure, heart attack, heart disease, high blood pressure, and beyond.

More than 90% of all people who suffer from insomnia also suffer from another issue, related to or caused by not getting enough sleep. These very real and very dangerous illnesses are not the only negative health side effects of sleep deprivation.

Sleep helps the body fight infections and viruses. It also helps to repair the immune system. If you are not getting enough sleep, you are probably also not giving your body the time it needs to fight those infections, ward off viruses, and build up your immune system so you are less likely to get sick.

Having a lowered immune system doesn’t just make it more likely that you will get a cold. It also makes it extremely likely that you will have to deal with a more serious infection. If you find yourself getting sick often, it may be because you are simply not getting enough sleep.

Sleep deprivation and Mental Health

On top of suppressing your mental function, making you feel stupid and slow, sleep deprivation can actually cause depression. A 2005 study found that people with depression were more likely to get less than six hours of sleep at night. Insomnia itself has a very strong correlation with depression, and if someone has chronic insomnia, they are more than five times more likely to also develop depression. Some doctors even point to insomnia as one of the very first signs of depression.

Depression and sleep deprivation feed into one another. The less sleep you get, the more depressed you become. The more depressed you become, the less sleep you get. Often, those who are sleep deprived find that if they treat their sleep deprivation, their depression also improves, and vice versa.

Impairs Your Judgement

Nothing lowers your quality of life like being unable to make a decision or unable to make good decisions. Being sick all of the time is probably the biggest and worst symptom of sleep deprivation and the worst way that it ruins your quality of life, but impaired judgement should follow close behind.

In today’s world, we are constantly being pushed to do more, be more, participate in more, etc. Being busy all of the time is often flaunted like a badge of honor. Having so much to do that you simply cannot get to sleep at a reasonable hour is something to brag about. Many people begin to believe that they don’t need to sleep.

All of this is wrong. A body that doesn’t get the sleep it needs is an unhealthy and unhappy body. Losing sleep can make it difficult to realize that you are making choices and doing things that actually harm you.

It may make you dull to the point that you don’t even realize you are making mistakes and constantly forgetting things. This is one of the worst ways that sleep deprivations ruins your life: by convincing you that you can exist in a sleep deprived state!

Have you ever done exams or tests on which performed suboptimal, because of lack of sleep?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2015 Sam Shepards


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