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Sleep deprivation: What happens if you don’t sleep?

A single night of poor or reduced sleep, such as daytime tiredness and irritability, can lead to short-term effects. However, the risk of developing longer-term, or chronic, health problems can increase with a regular or consistent lack of sleep.

This article demonstrates what might happen when a person does not sleep. Some tips on how to catch up on lost sleep are also provided.


sleep deprivation

Some problems that can arise if a person does not get enough sleep are shown below.

Mood changes

The link between sleep deprivation and mood changes was outlined by a 2018 study. It included research that showed a correlation between sleep deprivation and the following increases:

  • anger
  • aggression
  • emotional outbursts

The review also noted that sleep deprivation, such as depression and anxiety, can exacerbate preexisting mood disorders.

Decreased learning ability

Sleep is important for healthy brain function, according to the National Institutes of Health ( NIH).

The brain consolidates information during sleep that it has processed during the day. Because of this, a lack of sleep directly affects the capacity of a person to learn new data or abilities.

A lack of sleep, according to the NIH, may also have detrimental effects on the following:

  • attention
  • decision making
  • creativity

Changes in cognition and memory

The association between sleep duration and cognitive impairment in women was explored in a 2014 report.

It was found that women who slept in later life for less than 5 hours or more than 9 hours per night had increased cognitive impairment compared with women who slept in later life for 7 hours per night.

Overall, in terms of their cognitive impairment, females who had too little or too much sleep were around 2 years more advanced.

Increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease

A chronic brain disorder that progressively impairs thought and memory is Alzheimer’s disease. The amyloid hypothesis is proposed by some scientists as an explanation of how Alzheimer’s can develop.

Alzheimer’s disease occurs because of an accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain, according to the theory. In order to form large deposits called plaques, these sticky proteins clump together.

The plaques disrupt the signaling of the nerves in the brain, which ultimately leads to brain cell death.

One study from 2018 noted that during sleep, the immune system helps remove beta-amyloid from the brain. A single night of sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the levels of beta-amyloid in the brain.

The researchers suggest that prolonged lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s in an individual.

Increased chance of weight gain

People who sleep for less than 6 hours a night are more likely than those who sleep for 8 hours per night to have a higher body mass index (BMI).

The body releases hormones that help control metabolism, process gluten, and suppress appetite while a person sleeps. As a consequence, losing sleep will lead to a rise in cravings for food and extra calories being eaten the next day.

Increased risk of heart disease

During sleep, blood pressure normally decreases. Consistently having less than 7 hours of sleep each night can cause blood pressure to stay higher for longer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

High blood pressure reduces the risk of developing heart disease in a person. This, in fact, raises the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Increased risk of diabetes

Diabetes is a type of metabolic condition that is characterized by increased levels of blood glucose.

Sleep deprivation nearly triples the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in an individual.

It could also be a problem, however, to get too much sleep. In one 2015 study, researchers found that among individuals who regularly get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night, the lowest risk of developing type 2 diabetes appears.

The results also indicate that having too little or too much sleep may increase the risk of this condition being acquired by an individual.

Increased risk of infections

When sleep deprived, individuals also seem to have an increased risk of becoming sick. One 2015 study explored the relationship between sleep and the immune system.

Sleep can help to modulate various aspects of the immune system in a way that helps protect against infections, the researchers concluded. They also state that a lack of sleep may contribute to a reduction in immunity.

Increased risk of colorectal cancer

In contrast with those who did not experience sleep disorders, a 2019 study showed a substantially higher risk of colorectal cancer among people who encountered sleep disorders.

The researchers indicated that normal body rhythms and immune-stimulating hormones that help protect against colorectal cancer and other forms of cancer may be disturbed by sleep deprivation.

Changes in sexual health

Insufficient or disturbed sleep can influence sexual functioning in males, according to a 2019 study.

The authors proposed that when treating erectile dysfunction and other problems of sexual function, physicians recommend sleep deprivation.

How to catch up on lost sleep

For a person to catch up on missed sleep and to feel the benefits of doing so, it can take some time.

The following tips will help improve the sleep hygiene of a person, thereby helping them to catch up on missed sleep:

  • establishing and maintaining a regular bedtime routine
  • getting up at the same time every day
  • being physically active throughout the day
  • avoiding daytime napping
  • putting away all electronic devices before bedtime
  • not eating large meals before bedtime
  • not drinking alcohol or caffeine before bedtime
  • taking time to relax before bedtime
  • only using the bed for sleep and sex
  • sleeping in a cool, quiet, and dark environment

When to see a doctor

A visit to the doctor may not be needed if you lose a few hours of sleep once in a while or a few days a week. In these cases , individuals should try several methods for home treatment that will help them catch up with their sleep.

An individual should, however, see a physician if they encounter any of the following:

  • poor duration or quality of sleep despite implementing the necessary changes
  • a lack of sleep that affects the person’s day-to-day life
  • possible symptoms of a sleep disorder, which may include:
    • an inability or delayed ability to get to sleep
    • waking repeatedly throughout the night
    • waking too early and being unable to get back to sleep
    • excessive daytime sleepiness


It appears that sleep has many significant roles. Studies , for example, say that sleep helps to regulate mood, facilitate learning and memory, and avoid illness and infection.

There may not be any reason for alarm over an occasional lack of sleep. However, a person’s risk of many chronic diseases, including dementia, heart disease , and diabetes, may be increased by continued sleep deprivation.

To improve the quantity and quality of their sleep, a person who frequently experiences a lack of sleep can try some home care strategies. For help, anyone having serious or chronic sleep issues should see a doctor.

Obianuju Chukwu

She has a degree in pharmacy and has worked in the field as a pharmacist in a hospital. Teaching, blogging, and producing scientific articles are some of her interests. She enjoys writing on various topics relating to health and medicine, including health and beauty-related natural treatments, the nutritional worth of various foods, and mental wellness.