Sleep deprivation is a general lack of the necessary amount of sleep. This may occur as a result of sleep disorders, active choice or deliberate inducement such as in interrogation or for torture.

Physiological effectsEdit

Generally, lack of sleep may result in[1][2]


A 1996 study by the University of Chicago Medical Center showed that sleep deprivation severely affects the human body's ability to metabolize glucose, which can lead to early-stage Diabetes Type 2.[7]

Effects on the brainEdit

Sleep deprivation can adversely affect brain function.[8] A 2000 study, by the UCSD School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in San Diego, used functional magnetic resonance imaging technology to monitor activity in the brains of sleep-deprived subjects performing simple verbal learning tasks.[9] The study showed that regions of the brain's prefrontal cortex displayed more activity in sleepier subjects. Depending on the task at hand, the brain would sometimes attempt to compensate for the adverse effects caused by lack of sleep. The temporal lobe, which is a brain region involved in language processing, was activated during verbal learning in rested subjects but not in sleep deprived subjects. The parietal lobe, not activated in rested subjects during the verbal exercise, was more active when the subjects were deprived of sleep. Although memory performance was less efficient with sleep deprivation, greater activity in the parietal region was associated with better memory.

A 2001 study at Chicago Medical Institute suggested that sleep deprivation may be linked to more serious diseases, such as heart disease and mental illnesses, such as psychosis and bipolar disorder.[citation needed] A 2003 Universtity of California study found that REM sleep deprivation alleviates clinical depression. Although the mechanism is unclear it is suggested that the deprivation mimics the effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) however the study also indicated that REM sleep was essential for blocking neurotransmitters and allowing the neurotransmitter receptors to "rest" and regain sensitivity which in turn leads to improved regulation of mood and increased learning ability. Non REM sleep may allow enzymes to repair brain cell damage caused by free radicals. High metabolic activity while awake damages the enzymes themselves preventing efficient repair. The study observed the first evidence of brain damage in rats as a direct result of sleep deprivation.[10]

Animal studies suggest that sleep deprivation increases stress hormones, which may reduce new cell production in adult brains.[11]

Effects on growthEdit

A 1999 study[12] found that sleep deprivation resulted in reduced cortisol secretion the next day, driven by increased subsequent slow-wave sleep. Sleep deprivation was found to enhance activity on the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (which controls reactions to stress and regulates body functions such as digestion, the immune system, mood, sex, or energy usage) while suppressing growth hormones. The results supported previous studies, which observed adrenal insufficiency in idiopathic hypersomnia.

Effects on the healing processEdit

A study conducted in 2005 showed that a group of rats which were deprived of REM sleep for five days had no significant effect on their ability to heal wounds, compared to a group of rats not deprived of "dream" sleep.[13] The rats were allowed deep (NREM) sleep. However, another study conducted by Gumustekin et al.[14] in 2004 showed sleep deprivation hindering the healing of burns on rats.

Impairment of abilityEdit

According to a 2000 study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers in Australia and New Zealand reported that sleep deprivation can have some of the same hazardous effects as being drunk.[15] People who drove after being awake for 17–19 hours performed worse than those with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent, which is the legal limit for drunk driving in most western European countries (the U.S. and U.K. set their blood alcohol limits at .08 percent). In addition, as a result of continuous muscular activity without proper rest time, effects such as cramping are much more frequent in sleep-deprived individuals. Extreme cases of sleep deprivation have been reported to be associated with hernias, muscle fascia tears, and other such problems commonly associated with physical overexertion. Beyond impaired motor skills, people who get too little sleep may have higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and may take unnecessary risks. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 100,000 traffic accidents each year in the USA alone are caused by fatigue and drowsiness.[16] A new study has shown that while total sleep deprivation for one night caused many errors, the errors were not significant until after the second night of total sleep deprivation.[17]

The response latency seem to be higher when it comes to actions regarding personal morality rather than in situations when morality is not in question. The willingness to violate a personal belief has been shown to be moderated by EQ, so people with high EQ are affected less by sleep deprivation in such situations.[18]

Sleep deprivation due to long shifts has been implicated in a significant increase in medical errors over well-rested doctors.


Several large studies using nationally representative samples suggest that the obesity problem the United States might have as one of its causes a corresponding decrease in the average number of hours that people are sleeping.[19][20][21] The findings suggest that this might be happening because sleep deprivation could be disrupting hormones that regulate glucose metabolism and appetite.[22] The association between sleep deprivation and obesity appears to be strongest in young and middle-age adults. Other scientists hold that the physical discomfort of obesity and related problems, such as sleep apnea, reduce an individual's chances of getting a good night's sleep.


Scientific studyEdit

In science, sleep deprivation (of rodents, e.g.) is used in order to study the function(s) of sleep and the biological mechanisms underlying the effects of sleep deprivation.

Some sleep deprivation techniques are as follows:

  • gentle handling (often require polysomnography): during the sleep deprivation period, the animal and its polygraph record are continuously observed; when the animal displays sleep electrophysiological signals or assumes a sleep posture, it is given objects to play with and activated by acoustic and if necessary tactile stimuli.[23] Although subjective,[24] this technique is used for total sleep deprivation as well as REM or NREM sleep deprivation.
  • single platform: probably one of the first scientific methods (see Jouvet, 1964 for cats[25] and for rodents). During the sleep deprivation period, the animal is placed on an inverted flower pot whose bottom diameter is small relative to the animal size (usually 7 cm for adult rats); the pot is placed in a large tub filled with water to within 1 cm of the flower pot bottom. The animal is able to rest on the pot and is even able to get NREM sleep. But at the onset of REM sleep, with its ensuing muscular relaxation, it would either fall into the water and clamber back to its pot or would get its nose wet enough to waken it. So this technique is used only for REM sleep deprivation.
  • multiple platform: in order to reduce the elevated stress response induced by the single platform method,[26] developed this technique in which the animal is placed into a large tank containing multiple platforms, thus eliminating the movement restriction experienced in the single platform. This technique is also used only for REM sleep deprivation.
  • modified multiple platform: modification of the multiple platform method where several animals together get the sleep deprivation (Nunes and Tufik, 1994).
  • pendulum: animals are prevented from entering into PS by allowing them to sleep for only brief periods of time. This is accomplished by an apparatus which moves the animals' cages backwards and forwards like a pendulum. At the extremes of the motion postural imbalance is produced in the animals forcing them to walk downwards to the other side of their cages.[27]


Sleep deprivation is used as an interrogation technique (for example, in Pinochet-era Chile[citation needed], the Soviet Union[citation needed], or by the US on Guantanamo-held prisoners[28]).[29] Interrogation victims are kept awake for several days; when they are finally allowed to fall asleep, they are suddenly awakened and questioned. Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister from 1977-83 described his experience of sleep deprivation when a prisoner of the KGB in Russia as follows:

In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep...Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.[citation needed]

In 2006, Australian Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock argued that sleep deprivation does not constitute torture. [30] In rats, prolonged, complete sleep deprivation increases both food intake and energy expenditure, leading to weight loss and, ultimately, death.[31] Nicole Bieske, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International Australia, has stated, "At the very least, sleep deprivation is cruel, inhumane and degrading. If used for prolonged periods of time it is torture."[29]

Treatment for depressionEdit

Recent studies show sleep deprivation has some potential in the treatment of depression. About 60% of patients, when sleep-deprived, show immediate recovery, with most relapsing the following night. The incidence of relapse can be decreased by combining sleep deprivation with medication [32]. Incidentally, many tricyclic antidepressants happen to suppress REM sleep, providing additional evidence for a link between mood and sleep [33]. Similarly, tranylcypromine has been shown to completely suppress REM sleep at adequate doses.


Sleep deprivation may sometimes be intentionally induced for various reasons. Vivid hallucinations, heightened senses and a feeling of incredible creativity may occur after 48 hours (or less) of being in a state of sleeplessness. There is even a history of sleep deprivation being used by different schools of religious mystics as a form of asceticism or to heighten spiritual awareness. In particular, the early Desert Fathers of the Christian Church were known to deny themselves sleep.

Sleep deprivation has sometimes been self-imposed to achieve personal notoriety in the context of record-breaking stunts. One such record belonged to Randy Gardner, who stayed awake for 264 hours (eleven days). Lt. Cmdr. John J. Ross of the US Navy Medical Neuropsychiatric Research Unit later published an account of this event, which became well known among sleep-deprivation researchers.

Causes and treatmentsEdit


In the United States, and in many other countries, sleep deprivation is common among students. School-aged children should be getting between 8.5 and 9.25 hours of sleep[34] but many do not. A National Sleep Foundation survey found that college/university-aged students get an average of 6.8 hours of sleep each night.[35] Sleep deprivation is common in college freshmen as they adjust to the stress and social activities of college life. A study performed by the Department of Psychology at the National Chung Cheng University in Taiwan concluded that freshmen received the shortest amount of sleep during the week.[36]. Students get more sleep each night in the summer than during the school year,[citation needed] and one in four U.S. high school students admit to falling asleep in class at least once a week.[37]. Research has indicated that teenage children have a variation in their circadian cycle that delays sleep past the normal time for adults. Since school schedules are based around the adult workday, it is not surprising that students have difficulty obtaining adequate sleep.[citation needed] In 1997 the University of Minnesota did research that compared students who went to school at 7:15 a.m. and those who went to school at 8:40 a.m. They found that students who went to school at 8:40 got higher grades and more sleep on the weekdays.[16]

Longest period without sleepEdit

Depending on how sleep is defined, there are several people who can claim the record for having gone the longest without sleep:

  1. Thai Ngoc, born 1942, claimed in 2006 to have been awake for 33 years or 11,700 nights, according to Vietnamese news organization Thanh Nien. It was said that Ngoc acquired the ability to go without sleep after a bout of fever in 1973,[38] but other reports indicate he stopped sleeping in 1976 with no known trigger.[39] At the time of the Thanh Nien report, Ngoc suffered from no apparent ill effect (other than a minor decline in liver function), was mentally sound and could carry 100 kg of pig feed down a 4 km road,[38] but another report indicates that he was healthy before the sleepless episode but that now he was not feeling well because of the lack of sleep.[39]
  2. In January 2005, the RIA Novosti published an article about Fyodor Nesterchuk from the Ukrainian town of Kamen-Kashirsky who claimed to have not slept in more than 20 years. Local doctor Fyodor Koshel, chief of the Lutsk city health department, claimed to have examined him extensively and failed to make him sleep. Koshel also said however that Nesterchuck did not suffer any of the normally deleterious effects of sleep deprivation.[40] People who claim not to sleep are usually shown to sleep when studied in sleep laboratories with EEG. Nesterchuck reports experiencing drowsiness at night, commenting that he attempts to sleep "in vain" when he notices his eyelids drooping. Many people experience microsleep episodes during sleep deprivation, in which they sleep for periods of seconds to fractions of a second and frequently don't remember these episodes. Because microsleep is frequently not remembered, microsleep or a related phenomenon may be responsible for lack of sleep and/or lack of memory of sleep in individuals like Nesterchuk and Thai Ngoc.
  3. Randy Gardner holds the Guinness World Record for intentionally having gone the longest without sleep. In 1965, Gardner, then 18, stayed awake for 264 hours (about 11 days) for a high school science project.[41] He experienced significant deficits in concentration, motivation, perception, and other higher mental processes during his sleep deprivation. However, he recovered normal cognitive functions after a few nights' sleep.
  4. On May 25 2007 the BBC reported that Tony Wright beat the Guinness World Record by staying awake for 11 days and nights.[42] The Guinness Book of Records has, however, withdrawn its backing of a sleep deprivation class because of the associated health risks.
  5. A 3-year-old boy named Rhett Lamb of St. Petersburg Florida has a rare condition and has only slept for one to two hours per day in the past three years. He has a rare abnormality called an Arnold-Chiari malformation where brain tissue protrudes into the spinal canal. The skull puts pressure on the protruding part of the brain. It is not yet known if the brain malformation is directly related to his sleep deprivation.

See alsoEdit


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  3. Morin, Charles M.. Insomnia. pp. p.28. 
  4. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke -- Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep
  5. Smith, Andrew P.. Handbook of Human Performance. pp. p.240. 
  6. Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools
  7. Daniel J. Gottlieb, et al. Association of Sleep Time With Diabetes Mellitus and Impaired Glucose Tolerance. Arch Intern Med. Vol. 165 No. 8 2005; 165: 863-867 PMID 15851636. 
  10. Siegel, Jerome M. (November, 2003). "Why We Sleep", Scientific American. Retrieved on 3 April 2008. 
  12. Alexandros N. Vgontzas, George Mastorakos, Edward O. Bixler, Anthony Kales, Philip W. Gold & George P. Chrousos, published in Clinical Endocrinology, Volume 51 Issue 2 Page 205, August 1999
  13. Mostaghimi, L. (September 2005). "Effects of sleep deprivation on wound healing". Journal of Sleep Research 14 (3): 213. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2005.00455.x, 
  14. Gumustekin, K.; Seven, B., Karabulut, N., Aktas, O., Gursan, N., Aslan, S., Keles, M., Varoglu, E., Dane S. (2004). "Effects of sleep deprivation, nicotine, and selenium on wound healing in rats" (Abstract). Int J Neurosci 2004;114(11): 1433-42.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Siri Carpenter (2001). Sleep deprivation may be undermining teen health. 32, 
  17. Drummond, SEAN P. A. (September 2006). "Effects of two nights sleep deprivation and two nights recovery sleep on response inhibition". Journal of Sleep Research 15 (3): 261. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2006.00535.x. 
  18. "The Effects of 53 Hours of Sleep Deprivation on Moral Judgment". Journal SLEEP 30 (3), 
  19. Does the lack of sleep make you fat?, Bristol University Press Release, December 7 2004
  20. The association between short sleep duration and obesity in young adults: a 13-year prospective study., Sleep, Jun 15;27(4):661-6 2004
  21. Inadequate sleep as a risk factor for obesity: analyses of the NHANES I, Oct 1;28(10):1289-96 2005
  22. Sleep as a mediator of the relationship between socioeconomic status and health: a hypothesis, Ann N Y Acad Sci., 896:254-61 1999
  23. P. Franken, D. J. Dijk, I. Tobler and A. A. Borbely (1991). "Sleep deprivation in rats: effects on EEG power spectra, vigilance states, and cortical temperature". Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 261: R198–R208. PMID 1858947. 
  24. Rechtschaffen A, Bergmann BM, Gilliland MA, Bauer K. (1999). "Effects of method, duration, and sleep stage on rebounds from sleep deprivation in the rat". Sleep 22 (1): 11–31. PMID 9989363. 
  25. Harry B. Cohen and William C. Dement (1965). "Sleep: Changes in Threshold to Electroconvulsive Shock in Rats after Deprivation of "Paradoxical" Phase". Science 150 (3701): 1318–1319. doi:10.1126/science.150.3701.1318. PMID 5857002. 
  26. Z. J. M. van Hulzen and A. M. L. Coenen (1981). "Paradoxical sleep deprivation and locomotor activity in rats". Physiology & Behavior 27 (4): 741–744. doi:10.1016/0031-9384(81)90250-X. 
  27. Z. J. M. van Hulzen and A. M. L. Coenen (1980). "The pendulum technique for paradoxical sleep deprivation in rats". Physiology & Behavior 25 (6): 807–811. doi:10.1016/0031-9384(80)90298-X. 
  28. Guantanamo prisoner details sleep deprivation -
  29. 29.0 29.1 
  31. "". PLoS Medicine 1: e62. 2004. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062. 
  36. Li, Sheng-Ping (2008). 
  38. 38.0 38.1 Vu Phuong Thao (2006-02-14). "Vietnam man handles three decades without sleep", Thanh Nien. 
  39. 39.0 39.1 Thanh Hai (2007-04-16). "My kingdom for a snooze", Vietnam Investment Review. 
  40. Xenophilia - News Archives: Biology (2005)
  41. "Biology: How long can humans stay awake?". Scientific American (2002-03-25). Retrieved on 2007-04-23.
  42. BBC NEWS | England | Cornwall | Man claims new sleepless record

External linksEdit

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