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Sleep Deprivation

October 2nd, 2023
humanising healthcare

Sleep deprivation is a state caused by a lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep. According to a recent survey of UK workers, only a third reported getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night while almost three-quarters reported having poor sleep quality [1].

Insufficient sleep can have a negative impact on performance as well as causing slower reaction times which can lead to an increase in accidents. One study found that workers with sleep problems were 1.6 times more likely to be injured than those without and 13% of workplace accidents could be attributed to a lack of sleep [2].

There is also a link between sleep deprivation and the risk of multiple health conditions. For example, sleep deprivation can impair autonomic function, which is known to play a role in blood pressure regulation [3]. As a result, short sleep durations have been linked to an increased prevalence of hypertension and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke [4].

Sleep deprivation has also been associated with higher BMIs and therefore may predispose individuals to obesity [5]. The mechanisms through which sleeplessness may contribute to obesity include elevated ghrelin, leptin suppression and increased activity of neuronal reward pathways during food intake [5]. Additionally, increased tiredness may lower the capacity for exercise which may cause weight gain [5].

A lack of sleep is also known to be a risk factor for the development of mental health problems including depression [6]. The mechanisms underlying this link however are not well understood but are thought to involve an increase in systemic inflammation [7]. Notably, this relationship is bidirectional with those suffering from depression more likely to experience problems sleeping [8,9].

Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

  • Losing out on sleep can impact cognitive processes leading to memory problems

  • Having little sleep increases your risk of developing high blood pressure

  • Insufficient sleep can impact brain development in the young contributing to mental health and behavioural issues

  • Lack of sleep can impact the functioning of the immune system as well as cause inflammation leaving you at risk of a wide range of disorders

  • Not getting enough sleep may put you at risk of developing and make mental health problems worse

  • A lack of sleep can make you tired throughout the day, which increases your risk of accidents including trips, car accidents and making mistakes

  • Little sleep can disrupt hormones and reduce your capacity for exercise causing you to gain weight and putting you at risk of obesity.

Tips to Improve Sleep

It is important that you allow your body time to relax and get ready for sleep. Think of it as the start of any other regime you may have. For example, before a race, you stretch and warm up your body to prepare you for what you are about to endure. You do this so you have the best chance of winning the race. Try this mindset before going to bed.


Generating your own sleep schedule, including waking up and going to bed at the same time each day can help encourage your body to get into a routine. When you begin this, you may not fall asleep straight away. In these instances, instead of lying awake, read a book until you feel tired and fall asleep. 

Other steps you can take to improve your sleep may include:

  • Taking a warm bath, reading a book or meditating before going to bed

  • Ensuring you get 20 to 30 minutes of exercise during the day (not just before bed)

  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before going to bed. Anything to raise your heart rate should be avoided

  • Making a calm relaxing space for your sleep. Make this space just for sleep and nothing else

  • Making the room dark by closing the curtains. When it is dark, we release melatonin which helps to relax the body

  • Avoid screens including TVs, laptops, phones, and iPads before going to sleep

  • Make sure the room you are sleeping in is cool 


There have been hypotheses made about the duration of sleep you need for optimal health. It is generally recommended that a healthy adult has between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night however this may vary from person to person depending on their age and health status. It may be worth keeping a diary of how you feel e.g., refreshed or tired each time you wake up to find the optimal sleeping hours for you. 

In conclusion, sleep deprivation can negatively impact performance and is associated with numerous health risks. There are practical steps you can take to improve your sleep, however if you continue to have problems it is important that you consult a medical professional.

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[1] Work Mind. Workplace survey of 8000 UK workers finds 74% of adults report bad sleep quality [Internet]. [cited 2023 Sep 25]. Available from:

[2] Uehli K, Mehta AJ, Miedinger D, et al. Sleep problems and work injuries: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med Rev. 2014;18:61–73.

[3] Tobaldini E, Costantino G, Solbiati M, et al. Sleep, sleep deprivation, autonomic nervous system and cardiovascular diseases. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017;74:321–329.

[4] Calhoun DA, Harding SM. Sleep and Hypertension. Chest. 2010;138:434–443.

[5] Cooper CB, Neufeld E V, Dolezal BA, et al. Sleep deprivation and obesity in adults: a brief narrative review. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2018;4:e000392.

[6] Baglioni C, Battagliese G, Feige B, et al. Insomnia as a predictor of depression: A meta-analytic evaluation of longitudinal epidemiological studies. J Affect Disord [Internet]. 2011;135:10–19. Available from:

[7] Cho HJ, Eisenberger NI, Olmstead R, et al. Preexisting mild sleep disturbance as a vulnerability factor for inflammation-induced depressed mood: a human experimental study. Transl Psychiatry [Internet]. 2016;6:e750–e750. Available from:

[8] Tsuno N, Besset A, Ritchie K. Sleep and Depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 2005;66:1254–1269.

[9] Franzen PL, Buysse DJ. Sleep disturbances and depression: risk relationships for subsequent depression and therapeutic implications. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2008;10:473–481.

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