If you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, you’re familiar with that cranky, lethargic feeling that lingers all the next day.
But what if you have trouble sleeping on a regular basis? What is the impact of sleep deficiency that lasts more than a night or two? How does lack of sleep affect mental health?
Let’s explore the consequences of sleep deprivation.
What Is Sleep Deprivation?
Medical researchers define sleep deprivation and sleep deficiency as two different conditions:
- Sleep deprivation is when you don’t get enough sleep.1
- Sleep deficiency is a broader concept that happens if you have one or more of: sleep deprivation, sleeping at the wrong time of day, don’t sleep well, or have a sleep disorder that creates poor quality sleep or keeps you from getting enough sleep.1
Sleeping is a basic human need, the same as eating, drinking, and breathing, and therefore is vital to good health. We all know that lack of sleep interferes with focus, impacting work and school.1
The statistics on lack of sleep are alarming:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 1 in 3 adults in the United States reported not getting enough rest or sleep every day.1
- Nearly 40% of adults report falling asleep during the day without meaning to at least once a month.1
- An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic, or ongoing, sleep disorders.1
What Happens When You Suffer From Sleep Deprivation?
When you’re tired, it’s relatively easy to see the physical impacts: you likely don’t feel like exercising, for instance, or your body feels lethargic. An ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk of some chronic health problems.2
But sleep and mental health are also closely connected, whether your condition is sleep deprivation or a disorder. Sleep deprivation affects a person’s mental health and psychological state, and people with mental health problems are more likely to have insomnia or other sleep disorders.3
In one study, for instance, researchers found inadequate sleep was associated with increased mental distress. People who averaged six hours or less of sleep per night were about 2.5 times more likely to have “frequent mental distress,” than those who slept more than 6 hours.4
Why Is Sleep So Important To Mental Health?
Adequate sleep is vital to brain function, as sleep helps your brain get ready for the next day. Sleep improves the ability to learn, solve problems, make decisions, and be creative.2
On the other hand, a lack of sleep can change brain activity, with these resulting impacts:
- trouble making decisions and solving problems2
- difficulty controlling emotions and behavior2
- trouble coping with change2
Sleep deficiency has also been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.2
When you’re tired, you likely know that your negative responses increase and positive emotions are decreased.
Researchers are also finding in sleep deprivation studies that otherwise healthy people can experience increased anxiety and distress levels following poor sleep. Insomnia can be a symptom of existing mental health disorders, but trouble sleeping can in turn lead to the onset and worsening of different mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation.5
So how much sleep do you need? There are variations among individuals, but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults sleep at least 7 hours on a regular basis.5
See a Doctor
Besides the physical impacts such as increased risk of chronic conditions like high blood pressure,1 a lack of sleep has mental health impacts too. If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep on a regular basis, use our Physician Finder to see a doctor near you who can help. It’s vital to your physical and mental health.