The 5 Stages Of Sleep Deprivation (And Tips To Improve Sleep Quality)

Stages Of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation can significantly impact your health. Learn what is sleep deprivation, the stages of sleep deprivation, the health risks associated with each stage, and how to improve your sleep health.

What is Sleep Deprivation

As per sleep and health experts, adults need at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Sleeping less than 7 hours or not sleeping at all is called sleep deprivation. According to research, sleep deprivation is associated with a wide range of physical, cognitive, and mental health issues. 

Sleep deprivation is one of the most common issues faced by Gen Z and millennials, the most stressed-out generation right now. Not just hectic work schedules but excessive use of social media, workplace woes, sedentary lifestyle, unrealistic expectations, and mental health issues are the most common causes of stress and sleep deprivation in millennials and Gen Z individuals. 

What causes sleeplessness at night?

Different causes of sleep deprivation are as follows:

  • Work stress
  • Noisy sleeping environment 
  • Screen time before bed 
  • Stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Health issues like sleep apnea, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and bipolar disorder.

This article covers different stages of sleep deprivation and the health risks associated with it. Health issues tend to worsen, the longer you stay awake. The sleep deprivation timeline is generally divided into 12-hour or 24-hour increments.

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5 Stages of Sleep Deprivation

Stage 1: After 24 hours

Most people with hectic work schedules like surgeons and nurses or parents taking care of a sick child or students preparing for exams may often miss sleep for around or even more than 24 hours. It’s common to feel tired, but it is not associated with any serious health issues. 

But not sleeping for 24 hours is the same as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 % which is higher than the limit to legally drive (0.08%) in all states in the US. In short, drowsy driving is similar to drunk driving. 

Common health symptoms of sleep deprivation for 24 hours:

  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Drowsiness
  • High risk of stress
  • Decreased alertness
  • Brain fog
  • Low concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Puffy eyes or dark undereye circles
  • Risk of accidents while driving
  • Food cravings 
Kids who sleep with their pet enjoy better sleep quality
The 5 Stages Of Sleep Deprivation (And Tips To Improve Sleep Quality)

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Stage 2: After 36 hours

Staying awake for 36 hours leads to an overwhelming urge to sleep and brief periods of sleep that occur involuntarily. 36 hours of sleep deprivation affects communication between different parts of the brain, which in turn impairs cognitive performance. Not sleeping for so long also causes hormonal imbalance, which disturbs several bodily functions. 

Common health symptoms of sleep deprivation for 36 hours:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Risky decision-making
  • Impaired memory
  • Difficulty processing social cues
  • Slow reaction time
  • Increased errors
  • Difficulty learning new information
  • increased inflammation
  • Impaired immune function
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Increases appetite
  • Speech impairment such as poor word choice 

Stage 3: After 48 hours

After staying awake for 48 hours it is harder to stay awake and you are highly likely to experience microsleep (the brain is in a sleep-like state) that can last up to 30 seconds. After microsleep, you feel more confused and disoriented. You may tend to see or hear things that aren’t actually there. 

Do you know 48 hours of sleep deprivation may also disrupt the immune system? Inflammatory markers that protect our body from target illnesses start to circulate at increased levels. According to research, the natural killer (NK) cells in our body – that protect us from bacteria or viruses – have decreased activity after sleep deprivation. 

Common health symptoms of sleep deprivation for 48 hours:

  • Anxiety
  • High stress levels
  • Increased irritability
  • Depersonalization
  • Extreme fatigue

Stage 4: Awake for 72 hours

After staying awake for 72 hours, you have the urge to sleep like dead meat. You tend to experience more frequent and longer periods of microsleep, impaired perception of reality, hallucinations, and limited ability to perform executive functions like paying attention or multitasking, or completing even simple tasks. 

Emotions are affected and you may be easily irritated. According to research sleep deprivation decreases your ability to understand others’ emotions. In one study, participants who didn’t sleep for 30 hours were unable to recognize angry and happy facial expressions.

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Louisa Davis

Hi there! I'm just a normal person enjoying the process of life. Practicing Buddhism, I believe in the law of cause and effect. Reading and writing is always a pleasure. I enjoy researching on a range of subjects – science, psychology, and technology. Nothing can satiate my soul than good music, horror movies, psycho-thriller, and crime stuff. I enjoy photography, music and watching comedy videos. Talking to people, learning new experiences, sharing my knowledge through blogs, motivating others are things that I always look forward to.View Author posts