The Impact of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation has been shown to have a profoundly negative impact on job performance and day-to-day functions. Sustained sleep deprivation is also linked to health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night, but many people say they are simply too busy to get that much sleep regularly. They claim they may be sluggish, but their performance and health aren’t dramatically impacted. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. A lack of sleep, especially if it is ongoing, can have a disastrous impact on a person’s performance and health.


What do the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the Challenger explosion all have in common? Each of those tragic events occurred, in part, because the people in charge of making critical decisions were suffering from sleep deprivation. While most people will never be placed in such positions of authority, sleep deprivation causes fatigue, a decrease in the ability to focus and reason, and it leads to lower general mental performance. Those factors can all have a negative impact on job performance.

In addition to job performance, a lack of sleep also impacts many aspects of everyday life. One of the most common tasks that sleep deprivation can negatively affect is driving, something that is relatable to most adults. Every year, there are approximately 1,550 deaths attributed to drowsy driving accidents, and another 71,000 people are injured. Considering that sleep deprivation impacts between 50 and 70 million Americans, it’s surprising those figures aren’t higher. Those most at risk include commercial drivers, those who work nontraditional schedules, and people who are intoxicated or have taken certain types of medications.


A lack of sleep can also impact physical, mental and emotional health. Even a single night of sleep deprivation can cause irritability and irrational judgment. Long term sleep deprivation, however, has a negative impact on physical health. In fact, Harvard reports that studies indicate people are much more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI) when they regularly get less than six hours of sleep. Obesity and diabetes are linked to sustained sleep deprivation, in part, because hormones that impact metabolism, appetite control, and the processing of glucose are secreted while we sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, that process is interrupted.

Even one night of too little sleep can lead to increased blood pressure for the duration of the next day in people with hypertension. It is thought that could be one of the reasons for the link between heart disease and a lack of sleep.

What do health conditions brought on by a lack of sleep mean for you in the long run? Overall life expectancy is adversely impacted by chronic sleep deprivation. Studies show that the mortality risk is increased by about 15 percent in people who regularly sleep five or fewer hours a night. That is taking into consideration all of the adverse physical, mental and emotional health effects associated with getting too little sleep on a consistent basis.

The sometimes overwhelming responsibilities we face as adults often make us feel like there just isn’t enough time to get a good night’s sleep. However, given the impact that too little sleep has on our daily performance and overall health, making time to get an adequate amount of sleep is critical, both in the short term and the long term. Your life, and the lives of those around you, could literally be in the balance.

Author: Joan Evans

Joan Evans is a mental health specialist and has a great interest in personality disorders. In her spare time she likes to go to the woods with her golden retriever, Leroy, and write fiction.

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