Deprivation of sleep is defined as a reduction or disruption in the number of hours of necessary sleep. The necessary amount of sleep can vary greatly from person to person; there is no standard number that can be applied to everyone. Generally, sleep deprivation is not considered harmful for a person if it does not occur on a regular basis in that person’s sleep schedule. However, deprivation of sleep for one or more nights–as is common for many insomniacs–can result in distinct changes in one’s personality and physical health.
Psychological Effects of Deprivation Of Sleep
Deprivation of sleep results in many adverse physiological effects. These can include depression, loss of appetite, delirium, dizziness, memory lapses, slowed reaction time, weakened immune system, weight loss or gain, and many others. Many people with sleep disorders even have hallucinations and other psychosis-like symptoms.
Sleep deprivation often wreaks havoc on an insomniac’s physical appearance, as well. A person who does not get the proper amount of sleep often has dark circles under his eyes. His skin looks pale and sickly. He often loses or gains a noticeable amount of weight, due to changes in his appetite. Sleep deprivation results in a slowed rate of healing in one’s body, so he often has too many cuts and bruises. His weakened immune system means that he is frequently sick, causing him to repeatedly miss work. In fact, sleep deprivation is so brutal on the body that it is not uncommon for friends and coworkers to wonder if the sudden changes in an insomniac’s behavior and appearance are actually the result of drug or alcohol addiction.
Deprivation Of Sleep & Impaired Abilities
Sleep deprivation can impair many of our abilities. In fact, in 2000, researchers in Australia and New Zealand claimed that sleep deprivation has many of the same dangerous effects as being drunk. People who drove a car after being awake for 17-20 hours performed worse than drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent, which is the legal limit in most European countries. In addition to impaired motor skills, those who experience deprivation of sleep usually have higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress, and may take unnecessary risks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claims that over 100,000 traffic accidents occur each year in America alone due to fatigue and drowsiness.
Deprivation of sleep is known to be so horrible for people that it has long been recognized as one of the cruelest–and therefore most effective–forms of torture. Victims are kept awake for many days at a time. When they are finally allowed to fall asleep, they are abruptly awakened and then questioned. Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin wrote about his experience with sleep deprivation torture while in the hands of the KGB in Russia:
“[The prisoner’s] 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.”
Deprivation of sleep isn't just the complaint of a bunch of 'wussies' as many believe. It's a dangerous, health-destroying condition and one that is becoming ever-more common in our toxic, rushed society.