Amanda L. Conrad
November 28, 2006
Sleep Deprivation Research Paper
In order to understand how serious sleep deprivation can be, one needs to know what it actually is, what causes
it, what the effects are, and why sleep is so important to begin with.
A. Sleep Cycles
1. Stage one
2. Stage two
3. Stage three
4. Stage four
5. Stage ﬁve (REM)
II. Causes of Sleep Deprivation
1. Shift Work
B. Health Complications
1. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
2. Attention Deﬁcit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
C. Sleep Disorders
1. Sleep Apnea
2. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
3. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)
III. Effects of Sleep Deprivation
1. Immune System
2. Community Activities
Although sleep deprivation is a serious problem, with proper diagnosis and treatment, this condition can be
There is no substitution for sleep. It is a necessary process we must carry
out to sustain life. Sleep is the physical and mental resting state in which a person
becomes moderately inactive and unaware of the environment. Although our bodies
may be the picture of tranquility while we’re sleeping, there are numerous biochemical,
physiological, and psychological events constantly taking place. There is an alarming
lack of awareness about sleep in the medical community and the general public. To
understand how serious sleep deprivation can be, one needs to know what it actually is,
what causes it, what the effects are, and why sleep is so important to begin with.
During sleep, our body becomes relatively still and inactive; however, our brain
begins to orchestrate a wide range of activities. Sleep is divided into ﬁve distinct stages.
The brain will cycle through these stages about ﬁve to six times each night. Different
stages serve different purposes; therefore, it is important to cycle through them all.
Stage one is the transition between alertness and drowsiness. This is when the
brain and body become more relaxed. Our body temperature drops and our breathing
becomes more regular. Stage one is a very light sleep in which the sleeper may be
awakened quite easily. This stage usually lasts for ﬁve to ten minutes (Help the Aged 1
; Sleep Channel 2).
During stage two, the heartbeat and respiration become regular. This is when you
lose consciousness. Senses such as hearing are reserved. Sleepers can still be aroused
but not as easily as during the ﬁrst stage of sleep. These ﬁrst two stages account for
about ﬁfty percent of all sleep time. The person sleeping will spend about thirty minutes
in stages one and two before passing into stage three (Help the Aged 1 ; Sleep Channel
Stages three and four are both phases of deep sleep. However, stage four is the
deepest sleep of all. This stage lasts for about two to three hours. During deep sleep,
a person becomes very difﬁcult to awaken. If the sleeper is aroused, they may still feel
groggy and react slow to physical and verbal stimuli. This period of sleep is the most
restorative. The body is given the opportunity to cleanse, repair and rejuvenate itself
(Help the Aged 1 ; Sleep Channel 2).
Our dream sleep occurs during stage ﬁve. This stage illustrates rapid eye
movement which is identiﬁed as REM sleep. During this ﬁnal phase of sleep one becomes
temporarily paralyzed with the exception of the eyes. It is known that the eyes move
rapidly back and forth under closed eyelids during this period. The sleeper’s brain
activity, blood pressure, and heartbeat all speed up. REM sleep is also fundamental to
our welfare. Our mind is able to clean out and categorize our thoughts collected during
the day. This process prepares us with a fresh mental state for the following morning
(Help the Aged 1 ; Sleep Channel 2). The normal sleep cycle sequence will not be
followed if our REM sleep is interrupted. This will cause a break in the chain, even if it
only happens one night. The next time you fall asleep you will start in REM sleep until
your body, yet again, reaches the point it was previously in (Getting the Sleep You Need
If a people get less sleep than their brain requires, they are, by deﬁnition, sleep
deprived. “Sleep deprivation is a common condition that afﬂicts 47 million American
adults, or almost a quarter of the population” (Sleep Deprivation 1). Some of the
symptoms that are primarily noticed by lack of sleep are overtiredness, low energy, and
weakness. Sleep deprivation can be divided into three broad areas including, lifestyle,
health complications, and sleep disorders.
In this day and age sleep, has become an inconvenience for some people. With
all the work and play to carry out, sleep is sometimes neglected. Shift work is a way
of life that consumes nearly twenty percent of employees with jobs in America. This
causes an extreme change in sleep habits. By nature, humans are active during the
day and restful at night. Shift work reverses this natural order and our bodies may
never completely adapt to the change. Circadian rhythms run on a twenty four hour
succession. If people have a non-ﬂuctuating, shift, work schedule, their bodies may
adapt to it. This schedule is when the workers stay with the same timetable every day,
even though it is during untraditional work hours. If a people ﬂuctuate between the
three different shifts, which are usually 7a.m. to 3 p.m., 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., & 11 p.m. to
7 a.m., they are at higher risk of sleep deprivation. The body will not be able to unwind
and restore itself with these constant disruptions to the circadian rhythms (Shift Work
- Sleep Channel 1& 2).
Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine are substances used that may cause lack of sleep.
Caffeine is a stimulant that will help a person stay wakeful. Consuming anything with
caffeine in it should be avoided before going to bed. Caffeine, if taken in excessive
amounts, can cause an unkind cycle. This substance may become a necessity to stay
awake; however, when it is time to sleep it will prevent you from resting properly.
When alcohol is initially ingested, it causes a stimulating effect, but after awhile
it begins to have a sedative result. A person may sleep soundly for the ﬁrst few
hours. Ultimately, the remainder of one’s sleep will become fragmented, with frequent
awakenings (Alcohol and Sleep 1). As a result, one will wake up feeling worn out.
It requires about one and one-half hours to metabolize one ounce of alcohol: the
mild withdrawal effects last for another two to four hours. This means that a glass
of wine with dinner will probably not affect sleep. However, one ounce of alcohol
within two hours of bedtime or more than one ounce after dinner probably will
disrupt sleep. (Jacobs 1)
Nicotine and caffeine have similar effects. They both speed up brain waves and
increase heart rate and blood pressure. The effects of smoking a cigarette continue
for quite a few hours afterward. This makes it harder for a person to fall asleep and to
maintain sleeping. Refraining from smoking at least a few hours before bedtime will
decrease the stimulating and withdrawal effects of nicotine. This will improve a person’s
sleep cycle dramatically ( Jacobs 1).
Underlying health complications are an additional cause of sleep deprivation.
Both physical and mental conditions can affect a person’s ability to sleep properly. Two
medical conditions that may be overlooked as an origin of sleep deprivation include
posttraumatic stress disorder and attention deﬁcit hyperactive disorder.
Posttraumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, causes numerous amounts
of people to struggle with sufﬁcient sleep. Some individuals that have been exposed
to traumatic physical or psychological events, such as, rape, military combat, violence,
or natural disasters, may develop this disorder. People who suffer from this condition
may have trouble falling asleep or sustaining an undisturbed sleep. Biological changes
may happen as a product of trauma. People may feel that they have to stay alert in
order to protect themselves from harm. PTSD may also cause medical problems such
as chronic pain which, in turn, leads to discomfort and restless sleep. A person with
PTSD may have trouble staying asleep because of nightmares, anxiety attacks, and light
sleep. Nightmares may be a way for the person suffering from this disorder to express
prevailing emotions of the traumatic event. These feelings are usually panic and
terror. This could cause anxiety attacks that would interrupt sleep. People may wake up
repeatedly during the night to check on their surroundings. These measures are taken
to ensure danger is absent (Swales 1 & 2).
Another medical condition that may lead to sleep deprivation is attention deﬁcit
hyperactive disorder, also identiﬁed as ADHD.
Some experts say that as many as 70%-80% of all patients with ADHD have
difﬁculty sleeping. By far, the most common complaint is not being able to fall
asleep. One study showed that patients with ADHD vary nightly on how long it
takes to fall asleep, by as much as 2-3 hours, while those without ADHA normally
fell asleep within 40 minutes. (Bailey 1)
Some of the symptoms that are associated with ADHD are the basis for poor sleep.
Individuals may not be able to stop ﬁdgeting or squirming enough to relax. It is often
hard for one with ADHD to enjoy leisure activities quietly. An individual may possibly
fail to stop thinking about plans or assignments that have been left unﬁnished. They
may also be distracted with things such as T.V., computers, or video games. At times,
it becomes hard for the individuals with ADHD to stop when the activity is interesting to
About one-third of children with ADHD also suffer from nocturnal enuresis,
or bedwetting. Usually nocturnal enuresis ends by age 10, but some children
suffer into their teen years. (Bailey 1)
If a child or teenager experiences this situation, it may cause nervousness about going
to bed. They may be fearful of this happening to them, so in return, they stay awake.
“According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, chronic,
long-term sleep disorders affect at least 40 million Americans each year” (Sleep
Disorders and Problem Symptoms 1). A sleep disorder is when a person exhibits any
impediment with sleep. There are over 100 types of sleep disorders. Among the most
common ones that cause sleep deprivation are sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome
(RLS), and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).
Sleep apnea is a surprisingly common, debilitating, and potentially fatal sleep
disorder. People with sleep apnea stop breathing continually throughout the time
they are sleeping. Sometimes they may not even be aware of this event taking place.
Breathing may stop up to hundreds of times a night and may not start again for a
minute or longer (Sleep Apnea Information 1). Individuals with this disorder have
continuous sleep and breathing disruptions that deprive them of both sleep and oxygen.
This causes not only the effects of sleep deprivation, but leads to other health hazards
such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and weight gain (Sleep Apnea
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a disorder characterized by uncomfortable tingling
or crawling sensations in the lower extremities. This causes an irresistible urge to keep
them moving. These symptoms can be quite aggravating and even painful at times. One
of the attributes of this disorder is that the symptoms are triggered by the person lying
down. This will cause a person to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep once
achieved. This is sufﬁcient grounds for leading to sleep deprivation (Restless
Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet 1).
Another disorder that is similar to RLS is periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).
This condition causes episodes of rhythmic jerking movements during sleep which
often reaches the point of disturbing one’s slumber. The movements are involuntary
which makes it even harder to stay asleep. These actions happen about every 10 to 60
seconds which can take place the entire night (Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet 1).
Individuals with this disorder have steady interruptions with their sleep which impairs
their daytime function.
Not getting enough sleep can have a poisonous effect on your whole life. It does
not matter if sleep is lost because of life style, health complications, or a sleep disorder.
Inadequate rest impairs our ability to think, to handle stress, to maintain proper
health, to moderate our emotions and, in some cases, may even cause death. If sleep
deprivation goes unrecognized or untreated, a person has the foundation for various,
physical, psychological, and social problems.
The dangers of sleep deprivation may affect a person’s physical well-being
in several ways. Some people may not realize that adequate rest and a properly
functioning immune system are closely related. The blood levels of specialized immune
cells and important proteins called cytokines are altered when the body does not
get enough rest ( Hanson ; Kruger 1). This creates a greater than normal chance of
infections. A person who is sleep deprived may catch the common cold more frequently
than a well-rested person. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to spawning diabetes.
A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Society
suggests that healthy young people who regularly got less than 6.5 hours of sleep
a night had greater insulin resistance than people who got 7.5 to 8.5 hours of rest.
Insulin resistance is the condition that often leads to Type 2 diabetes. (Sleep
Deprivation & Diabetes 1)
Another effect of sleep loss is the risk of obesity. During sleep, your body releases
speciﬁc hormones and chemicals that control appetite and manage weight gain (Taheri
Researchers found that people who sleep two to four hours a night are 73% more
likely to be obese than those who get seven to nine hours. Those who get ﬁve or
more hours of sleep a night are 50% more likely to be obese than normal sleepers.
Those who sleep six hours are 23% more likely to be obese. And, the researchers
reported, those who get 10 or more hours are 11% less likely to be obese.
If weight gain is not managed properly, it may cause other health problems in the
Without sufﬁcient rest, our psychological state will begin to deteriorate. People
become irritable and short-tempered, both with themselves and others. It is possible to
even lose control of emotions which can lead to alarming outbursts and even violence.
This can be detrimental to relationships with family, friends, and partners. Stress and
anxiety levels both mount as a result of sleepiness. This can eventually lead to full
blown anxiety disorders and depression.
With continual lack of sufﬁcient sleep, the part of the brain that controls language,
memory, planning and sense of time is severely affected, practically
shutting down. In fact, 17 hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in
performance equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05% (two glasses of wine).
This is the legal drunk driving limit in the U.K. (The science of sleep 1)
The brain’s ability to problem solve becomes impaired when a person is sleep deprived.
Our normal decision making abilities are compromised, and the brain falls into rigid
thought patterns that make it hard for us to produce new problem solving ideas. This is
why teachers always tell their students to get plenty of rest on the night before a test is
given. Inadequate rest can even cause people to have hallucinations.
Sleep deprivation may also intrude on one’s social life. Shift workers face
problems trying to maintain family relationships and social and community ties. The
shift worker has to balance work, personal time, and sleep. Because night shift workers
need to sleep during the day, they often miss out on family activities, entertainment,
and other social interaction. Childcare, house work, shopping, and leaving a partner
alone at night can lead to marital strain and family dysfunction. If family members do
work this schedule, it is important to plan special times to share with their friends and
Sleep deprivation is a serious matter that can cause a chain of various, negative,
effects. Sleep is an essential part of our lives. Without it, we would not be restored
each day. Our physical, mental, and social interests rely on it. Even though sleep is not
completely understood, we have proven that it is required for survival. Sleep deprivation
is a serious problem that should not be ignored. With awareness and knowledge of this
condition, those suffering can be treated. This will result in healthier, more restful lives.
So, the next time you choose to pull an all nighter, you might want to reconsider. Your
mind will be missing out on more than just a dream.
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