The Effects of Sleep DeprivationSleep deprivation has been used in wars and terrorism as a form of torture to force victims to disclose information. Sleep is a stronger basic need than food and water. Simply, the human body cannot do without sleep.

Many people believe they have little or no sleep during the night. They concentrate on the hours they spend awake, and have little recollection of the time they spend sleeping. In fact, many people underestimate the amount of sleep they really have each night.

Without sleep the body and mind are unable to function efficiently. When sleep deprivation is used as a form of punishment it causes disorientation, confusion, delirium and desperation. Victims report such a longing for sleep that they would do anything just to be allowed to have some uninterrupted sleep.

Sleep deprivation is a controversial area to research. The effects on the human body and mind are so serious that researchers find it difficult to investigate sleep deprivation.

Sleep Loss

Few people ever experience real sleep deprivation. More commonly, lack of sleep causes ‘sleep loss’. Insomnia, sleep problems, shift work and jet lag all deprive the mind and body of sleep. Usually it is possible to make up this ‘sleep debt’ during subsequent nights. If this is not possible or the debt increases, the mind and body suffer.

The main symptoms of sleep loss are fatigue and irritability the next day. Difficulty concentrating affects learning and the retention of information. Depression, anxiety and moodiness are other symptoms.

Recognising Sleep Problems

Insomnia and sleep loss affect most people at some time during their life. Teenagers and young adults are often unaware of the damage they are doing to their body and mind by limiting sleep. Shift work, studying, travel and twenty-four hour communications mean that young and old fight the need to sleep at night.

Many people pay little interest to their sleep problem until it affects other aspects of their life. Although insomnia is a major concern, few take long term action to improve their problem. Sleeping pills are only suitable for short term relief in severe cases, yet doctors still hand these out on a daily basis.


There are many ways to help improve sleep. Sleep Hygiene is the term given to improving the environment, and preparing the mind and body for sleep.

There are many things that affect how well we sleep. Taking control of sleep means restricting the ‘sleep stoppers’ such as caffeine and alcohol, and increasing the ‘sleep helpers’ which include certain foods, relaxation techniques and adopting routines that encourage sleep.

Helping others to sleep is rarely discussed. Families affect each other’s sleep. Children sleep better with a night time routine that encourages them to calm down and recognise the need to sleep. Food also affects sleep, and heavy meals late at night make it difficult to fall asleep. Noise can be a problem within some households and a respect for others sleep needs is important.

Partners may be affecting each others sleep. Snoring, restlessness and different bedtimes may all interfere with each others sleep needs. Long term sleep loss causes irritability and mood changes which affect relationships. It is important to take a realistic look at how individual sleep differences can be resolved to create harmony in the bedroom.

Sleep and Employment

Shift work, long distance travel and irregular working hours all cause sleep loss. This can cause symptoms almost as severe as those involved in sleep deprivation. The costs to employers can be seen in an increase in absenteeism, loss of productivity and more accidents.

Although few people will suffer from real sleep deprivation, or knowingly interfere with anyone’s right to sleep, it is important to acknowledge how work and relationships affect all aspects of life. It is important to take responsibility for your own sleep needs, and encouraging others to respect your right to a peaceful night.