5 Side Effects Of Sleep Deprivation That You Didn’t Know About

 In Sleep

This is a guest post on the side effects of sleep deprivation by our friend Helen at HealthAmbition.com

We all know we need to sleep. It is pretty much a given. But sometimes, it’s just not that easy.

Either we stay up late intentionally, maybe for that one off night on the town, to pull an all-nighter on an important project or because the new series of Orange is the New Black just came onto Netflix and you just can’t put down the remote.

For some people, the reason they miss out on sleep is more serious. Sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome are all problems which stop people clocking in enough sleep hours at night.

Whatever the reason, long-term lack of sleep can turn into chronic sleep deprivation which has been linked to increased risk of a number of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and even depression.

Moreover, losing sleep can lead to a number of unpleasant things happening to your body. While I was doing research for my piece on why sleep is so important, I found some shocking information. Read on to find out 5 side effects of sleep deprivation that you didn’t know about.


#1 – Your Brain Starts To Think You’re Drunk

When you don’t get enough sleep over a 24 hour period, your cognitive function is impaired so much it is equivalent to being too drunk to legally drive.

Maybe you’ve experienced it before, the confusion or inability to focus. According to an article from Harvard published in National Geographic “going without sleep for 24 hours or getting only five hours of sleep a night for a week is the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent.” [1]

That actually equates to 4 or more alcoholic beverages, depending on your weight [2]. So after a week of cramming for finals, your mental state come your exam will actually be at the same level as after 4 vodkas – definitely not ideal!

#2 – It Becomes Increasingly Difficult To Fight Off Infection

When you get an insufficient amount of sleep, your white blood cells are left exhausted and find it more difficult to fight off minor infections. Studies have shown that those who get less than six hours sleep a night are four times more likely to catch a cold than those who get the recommended eight hours of sleep nightly [3].

“During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease the production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep”

Of course, although catching a cold may not be the worst thing in the world, continued lack of sleep makes it impossible to fight off that infection, thus leading to more serious conditions like pneumonia.

#3 – Your Memory Gets Worse

We’ve already established how sleep deprivation can affect your cognition, therefore, it probably comes as no surprise that your memory may also be affected.

In a 2014 study conducted by Harvard’s Nurses Health Study showed that people who slept five hours or less were actually functioning at a memory level two years beyond their actual age. This, of course, is not necessarily something you want when you get older, considering memory functions decrease in quality every year [4].

#4 – For Men, Your Sperm Count Drops

According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, men who experience sleep disturbances have 29% less sperm in their semen than men who slept for a full eight hours each night [5].

#5 – Your Risk Of Death and Chronic Diseases Increases

Believe it or not, sleep deprivation alone can actually increase your mortality risk. A study published in the Journal of Sleep, evaluated 1,741 men and women only to find that those who slept less than six hours each night had a significantly higher risk of death [6].

Not only this, but your risk of several chronic diseases significantly increases if you do not get enough sleep each night including:

Certain types of cancer
Heart disease


It is clear to see from all the scientific research that if you don’t snooze, you lose. Sleep plays a huge role in our overall health and well-being and some research has even shown that just one night of poor sleep can result in changes of more than 700 genes and loss of brain tissue.
These findings are certainly enough to give you nightmares, yet it is clear to see how important getting the right amount of shut-eye is each night.



  1. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/05/sleep/max-text
  2. http://dui.drivinglaws.org/drink-table.php
  3. http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2015/august/sleep-and-sickness.html
  4. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/little-sleep-much-affect-memory-201405027136
  5. https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/177/10/1027/101677/Association-of-Sleep-Disturbances-With-Reduced
  6. http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=27894
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