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An Introduction to Sleep Deprivation | Facts about sleepWhat is sleep deprivation? | What causes sleep deprivation? | Symptoms and effects of sleep deprivation | What to do if you have sleep deprivation

An Introduction to Sleep Deprivation

Due to the highly connected, fast-paced and digital world we live in today, sleeping less has unfortunately become a typical part of our lifestyle. While our sleep choices and patterns can fluctuate from day to day, an ongoing lack of sleep can result in a condition called sleep deprivation.

Consistent quality sleep is as important to our health as daily food, drink and exercise, however this can often be underestimated which can leave us vulnerable to general effects such as fatigue or irritability, as well as more serious medical conditions.

This page is designed to answer all of your questions about the why and how to get sufficient sleep, what sleep deprivation means for you, and what to do in order to restore balance to your sleeping habits.

Facts about sleep

Sleep is an important biological function that our bodies need every day for brain development, physical repair and recovery, cardiac function and metabolism maintenance, as well as recharging our energy levels to support daily activities such as performance, learning, and mood1.

What does sleep do for you?


Sleeping well is important for wellbeing and vitality, and offers us a range of benefits, including helping us to maintain a healthy weight, enhancing our mood and improving our general health.

Read more here: Sleep is important.

How long can humans survive without sleep?

While people generally require around 7.5 hours of quality sleep a night, everyone’s sleep patterns are different.

There is little scientific evidence as to how many hours a person needs to survive on, or that a lack of sleep directly leads to death, however staying awake for long periods of time can lead to serious physical and mental stress that can put people more at risk of safety issues, such as falling asleep at the wheel or causing industrial accidents2.


For example, it has been found that people who drive after being awake for around 19 hours have shown the same impaired reaction times, coordination and judgement abilities as those with a blood-alcohol level of 0.053.

The record for the longest period without sleep is around 18 days, where they reported experiencing hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech and memory and concentration lapses4.

Read more here: How to break a weak sleep cycle: flaws of week-day sleepiness

How much sleep is enough?

While there’s no definitive answer to how much sleep is enough, it’s recommended that the average Australian adult gets around 7 to 9 hours a night, with no less than 6 hours and no more than 10 hours5.

Read more here: What are the sleep requirements of Early Birds vs Night Owls?

What is sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is a general term used to describe the state caused by inadequate quantity or quality of sleep, whether this is done voluntarily by choosing to go to bed for a reduced number of hours, or due to medical sleep disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Read more here: What is Sleep Apnea?

How do know if you have sleep deprivation?


Generally, sleep deprivation has many physical and mental manifestations, including:

  •       Continual yawning throughout the day
  •       Finding it difficult to control your emotions
  •       Feeling easily irritated
  •       Struggling to concentrate
  •       Dozing on the train or while watching TV
  •       Zoning out throughout the day

While having one or two of the above doesn’t necessarily mean you are sleep deprived, if you are experiencing a combination of these signs over a long period of time, it’s probably an indication that you have sleep deprivation.

Read more here: How does sleep deprivation affect our performance?

Take an online sleep assessment

If you are constantly tired and experience sleepiness during the day, you might be suffering from a sleeping problem. Take our free sleep assessment to find out if you're at risk.

This will take 2 minutes to complete and the results will be emailed directly to you.

Take ResSleep's FREE sleep assessmentGet a better understanding of your sleep issues with a free sleep assessment.

What causes sleep deprivation?

There are a few common causes of sleep deprivation, which include the following:

  1. LifestyleChoicesLifestyle choices
    It’s common today that people sacrifice sleep hours to enjoy staying up to socialise with friends, watch entertainment or pursue hobbies, and forget (or at least underestimate) how much sleep our bodies need. Doing this regularly can lead to a cycle of poor sleep.
    Read more here: Sleep deprivation: Is sleep debt ok?

  2. MedicalFeeling sick
    While people try and sleep when they are feeling unwell due to illnesses such as the flu, they tend to fragment our sleep patterns through pain, coughing and other related symptoms. This means that while you are getting bed rest, you may not be getting quality sleep.

  3. SleepEnvironmentYour sleeping environment
    Your bedroom’s conditions can have an impact on the quality of sleep you get each night, including temperature and darkness.
    Read more here: Difficulty sleeping: Why darkness matters

  4. disorder3Sleep disorders
    Diagnosable sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea can result in waking up many times during the night. So, even if you are keeping to a regular sleeping schedule and getting the right number of hours per night, you may not be getting the quality of sleep you require.

  5. WorkhabitsWork Habits
    Struggling to find the ideal work/life balance is a common occurrence for people today, and because our devices allow us to be contacted at any time, this can lead to unusual sleeping patterns. Working long hours to support your business venture, shift work, or participating in business across different time zones can also disrupt healthy sleep.
    Read more here: Sleeping around the clock: five tips to help shift workers sleep

  6. HyGGPoor sleep hygiene
    Sleep hygiene refers to adopting the best practices prior to going to bed to ensure quality sleep at night and alertness during the day. Poor choices and habits can result in a poor sleep that night.
    Read more here: Are you practising good sleep hygiene?

  7. FamilyFamily Commitments
    Parents with babies and toddlers tend to experience sleep deprivation because their young children wake frequently during the night for feeding or comfort.
    Read more here: Sleep deprivation: Is sleep debt ok?

Symptoms and effects of sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a serious concern because it can impact a person in many different ways, including the following:

Psychological effects

Poor ongoing sleep can directly affect our normal neuron and brain functionality6 which impacts mental health.

This can lead to nightmares, depression, hallucination and unexpected behavioural changes4.

Effects on performance

A lack of sleep can have a negative impact on the way we perform our daily tasks, including activities at work, our memory recall, driving and our ability to learn.

Read more here: How does sleep deprivation affect our performance?

Physical effects

Sleep deprivation can cause physiological symptoms, such as weight gain, headaches, reduced immunity levels and skin issues too7.

Read more here: How does sleep deprivation affect you?

What to do if you have sleep deprivation

As sleep deprivation is caused by a lack of sleep, the solution is not only to get more sleep- it’s also about restoring healthy habits, hygiene and cycles each night.

Here are some tips to help you to get back on track.

  1. Mindset change

As you read above, poor sleeping habits can start with underestimating how important sleep is to our health and wellbeing. This means changing your perspective on sleep and making it a priority.

  1. Reduce stimulants before bed

Alcohol, caffeine and certain medications just before bed can keep you awake for longer and reduce the quantity and quality of your sleep throughout the night.

  1. Sleeping conditions

When you head to bed, ensure that your room is ideal for sleeping. This includes no electronic devices, a comfortable temperature, a quality mattress, sufficient darkness and peace and quiet.

  1. Relaxation before bed

It’s important to take the time to wind down before you put your head on your pillow. This may include brief meditation, turning off devices and putting concerns like work and your to-do list out of your mind.

Book A Sleep Consultation

If you wish to talk to someone about your current sleep issues, find out more about a sleep test, or discuss the results of your sleep assessment, our team of sleep professionals can help you.




[1] Good sleep = good health. Government of South Australia- SA Health.

[2] New report shows inadequate sleep is costing the country $66.3 billion. News.com.au. https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/health-problems/new-report-shows-inadequate-sleep-is-costing-the-country-663-billion/news-story/811494f9623e2778dd74e1cf1c5ec15a

[3] Can you die from lack of sleep? – ABC Health and Wellbeing. http://www.abc.net.au/health/talkinghealth/factbuster/stories/2012/03/13/3451196.htm

[4] 40 Facts about sleep you probably didn’t know. ABC The National Sleep Research Project. http://www.abc.net.au/science/sleep/facts.htm

[5] Sleep Health Facts – Sleep needs across the lifespan. Sleep Health Foundation. http://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/files/pdfs/Sleep-Needs-Across-Lifespan.pdf

[6] Selective neuronal lapses precede human cognitive lapses following sleep deprivation. Nature Medicine. Volume 23, Number 12, December 2017

[7] The affect sleep has on your skin. Griffin+row. https://www.griffinandrow.com/education/lifestyle/general-lifestyle-factors/effect-sleep-skin/