Physical effects of sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation symptoms

The symptoms of sleep deprivation - whether emotional, mental or physical - seem to almost seep into everything that you do. They drain your energy, make you grumpy, often a 'pain to live with' and totally miserable.  

One of the most worrying aspects is, of course, the effects sleep deprivation has on your health. Symptoms may cause: 

  • impaired immunity
  • changes in hormone levels
  • weight problems
  • accelerated aging
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • high blood pressure

However, I don't think it really helps very much to think about the effects of sleep deprivation in this way.

It's far more useful to think about what exactly the effect is on your day-to-day functioning. What do you need to do to get support, whilst you are grappling with this? How you can begin to address the underlying cause?

The physical effects will sort themselves, once your sleep pattern is reordered.

Why you might be functioning ‘below normal’

A woman lies in bed, unable to sleep

Insomnia (chronic sleeplessness) causes a range of problems. Amongst other things, it impairs:

  • decision making
  • concentration
  • problem solving
  • thinking
  • handling stress
  • moderation of emotions

It can also be linked with depression and anxiety.

The above list probably doesn't come as a great surprise to you. But I hope seeing the problems listed may help you begin to make sense of it all.  

It can also aid your ability to communicate effectively with people around you allowing you to articulate exactly what's happening with you.

Through reading the above list of psychological factors, you can spot how they all lead to further stress and consequentially the physical effects of sleep deprivation.

A cat fast asleep amid big, fluffy sheets

Circadian rhythm

Your bodily functions follow a natural rhythm over a 24 hour cycle - no news to you I'm sure! You'll have observed it in the animals and plants around you too.

If you look at exactly what your body-clock regulates (in addition to sleeping and waking) you'll understand how easily sleep deprivation can disrupt many of the physiological and biochemical processes in your body (as well as your behaviour):

  • data-custom-mark="true"blood pressure
  • pulse rate
  • digestion
  • body temperature

These aspects of your physical health are inter-linked with just about every other process in your body. Your sleep-wake cycle is therefore not something you'd want to 'play around' with. Staying up all night to watch TV, films or play video games isn't going to help you restore the natural balance and rhythm of your sleep.

Watch this video to learn more...

Working shifts and physical effects of sleep deprivation

Our whole physiology is geared up for the body/mind to be active during the day and to sleep at night. It's therefore no wonder that working shifts causes sleep problems, potentially resulting in serious physical effects of sleep deprivation. Sleep during the day doesn't benefit from daylight cues that influence melatonin production.

There's some evidence that the disruption of the normal sleep-wake cycle/circadian rhythm can potentially cause cancer. (See further links.)

The advice for good sleep hygiene, which you can find on my page on natural sleep remedies (link further down), is also applicable here.

If you're feeling like you can't wait and you want to do something right now, there are some natural remedies which can help start you off in the right direction.

Sleep stages and dreaming

During healthy sleep, so called ‘slow-wave’ sleep (restorative) and dream sleep alternate. Dreaming helps the mind to deal with the emotional arousal left over from the day’s unfulfilled expectations. (For more on this concept, have a look at "Dreaming Reality - How dreaming keeps us sane, or can drive us mad" by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell 2004) or visit my page on interpreting of dreams.

Excessive worrying leads to extended periods of dreaming, when the brain is almost as active as it is during the daytime.

Longer periods of dreaming lead to less time for the restorative slow-wave sleep which in turn affects your mind and body.

Sleep deprivation symptoms and dreaming

In addition to the effects already mentioned, longer dream periods are exhausting for your brain. You may therefore wake up really early in the morning, feeling tired and lacking in any kind of motivation and energy.

The cycle continues as you worry about how on earth you're going to cope with whatever the day brings.

Exhaustion is one of the most obvious and immediately noticeable physical effects of sleep deprivation (as well as you probably being barely able to function mentally).

Exhaustion means that you're less able to cope with the day-to-day tasks, which leads for further stress on your adrenal glands.

Don't suffer alone: talk It over with a expert online counsellor right now!

Potential causes of sleep deprivation

Knowing the underlying cause of your insomnia will help you to decide what you can do about it. If you haven't already - begin by seeing your GP to rule out any of the problems below.

You'll find help with emotional problems on the pages of this site, so you really can start to help yourself get better right away.


Among others:

  • Certain antidepressants
  • Beta-blockers
  • Sedatives

Emotional problems

  • Anxiety, Depression (though these can also be caused by insomnia!), Trauma
  • Sudden traumatic disturbances in sleep
  • Feeling unsafe
  • Real and present concerns about the health and well-being of someone in your family

Medical problems

Amongst others...

  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Emphysema
  • Rheumatism
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Pain

Substance abuse

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Nicotine
  • Sedatives

The Human Givens approach

The help of a Human Givens Therapist in sorting out your sleep problems can be invaluable. The therapist will use a variety of techniques and approaches, making the treatment very personal to you.

For more information about the importance of meeting our essential emotional needs, hop over to my Human Givens page to learn how to restore the balance to your life.

Related Articles

The Signs and Symptoms of a Mental Breakdown
Are You Depressed or Sad?
PTSD Symptoms
Worn out? Is It Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?
How to Manage Stress in the Workplace
How to Overcome Overeating
The Best Natural Sleep Sleep Remedies

Other Helpful Links

International Agency for Research on Cancer - Shift work that involves circadian disruption is probably carcinogenic to humans

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Elly Prior

It's me - Elly Prior, I'm the Founder and Author of this site. I'm a 'real' person! I'm hoping to make a positive difference, small or large, to every person who visits my site.

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Images courtesy of: Alyssa L. Miller Shellac