Sleep Deprivation Symptoms


Introducing healthier sleep habits into your life

Introducing healthier sleep habits into your life can make poor sleep a thing of the past.  But if you’re not sleeping properly, sooner or later it could catch up with you.

The occasional bad night’s sleep is generally no more than a nuisance but ongoing poor sleep can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, mood swings, reduced energy and concentration problems. Your body will tell you in a variety of ways if you need more sleep.

Don’t ignore these sleep deprivation symptoms:

10 symptoms of not getting enough sleep

Excessive daytime sleepiness
Irritability and moodiness
Inability to concentrate or a “fuzzy” head
Difficulty learning new things
Lack of motivation
Craving carbohydrates or high sugar foods
Reduced sex drive

Effects of sleep deprivation

Tired and grumpy?1

Irritability is one of the more common lack of sleep symptoms. Poor sleep can have an adverse effect on your energy level and your mood and it may also increase your risk of developing a mood disorder such as anxiety or depression. Fortunately, if your moodiness is due to lack of sleep, getting good regular sleep can help you see the world in a much better light.

Having trouble concentrating?2

Reduction in concentration and cognitive ability are common sleep deprivation symptoms. When researchers gave people who were sleep deprived a hand-eye coordination task or tested them in a driving simulator, they responded just as badly or worse than people who were drunk. If you’re sleep deprived and you drink alcohol this effect is magnified.

Feeling anxious?

Lack of sleep can make you feel more anxious than usual.3 This can become a vicious cycle, because anxiety can also make it more difficult to get to sleep and to sleep well. Researchers have speculated that improving deep sleep may help improve anxiety. For this reason, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is becoming more widely used to treat both sleep disorders and anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy aims to break the link between sleep and anxiety so you can get back to sleeping properly and feeling less anxious when you’re awake.4

Too drowsy to drive safely?

Sleep deprivation affects your ability to drive safely because it’s all too easy to lose focus or experience micro-sleeps that can cause an accident. Micro-sleeps are brief episodes of sleep that can last from a fraction of a second up to 10 seconds. It can be hard to tell if you’re overtired and having micro-sleeps but the signs to look out for include:5

  • Brief memory lapses
  • Missing an exit
  • Hearing the rumble of your wheels driving over the lane edge
  • Noticing your head bobbing
  • Yawning

Gaining weight?6

One poor night’s sleep may not be a problem, but researchers believe that regular sleep deprivation can encourage your body to gain weight. How? It could increase your appetite, particularly for high-carb foods. It could also affect your energy level so you’re less active during the day.7

Low libido?

Being too tired is the number one reason women give for not being interested in sex. The good news is that getting more sleep does increase a woman’s potential for arousal.8

Men whose poor sleep is due to obstructive sleep apnea, may have reduced testosterone levels which can have an adverse effect on their sex drive.9

Many people suffering from insomnia sleep apart from their partner to avoid triggers that may disturb their sleep which doesn’t bode well for intimacy in their relationship.10

Keep getting infections?

Sleep deprivation can weaken your immunity, making you more prone to infections. It also weakens your response to vaccinations. So if you keep coming down with colds or other infections, maybe lack of good healthy sleep could be partly to blame.11

Too much inflammation?12

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may have higher than normal levels of inflammation in your body. Why is this a problem? Inflammation is a risk factor for a number of chronic diseases including stroke and heart disease. People who normally sleep more than 6 hours a night have lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood compared to people who sleep for under 6 hours.

Sleepy all day?13

Many different things can cause you to be sleepy in the daytime but a sleep disorder is a common culprit. If you frequently nod off during the day, stop breathing during sleep, or snore loudly, your daytime sleepiness may be caused by a medical problem like sleep apnea, a condition that interferes with the way you breathe when you’re asleep. Treating sleep apnea may reduce lack of sleep symptoms such as daytime sleepiness.14

Feeling cold?

If you haven’t slept properly, or you’re suffering from jet lag, you may feel chilled. This is another one of those sleep deprivation symptoms that a good night’s sleep can resolve.15

Getting headaches?16

There are several different types of headaches associated with sleep.

  • Migraine headaches often come on in the morning. Both lack of sleep and too much sleep can trigger a migraine.
  • Dull morning headaches may mean that your sleep has been disturbed by obstructive sleep apnea
  • Headaches caused by bruxism a condition where you grind your teeth in your sleep can mean that you wake up with pain around your temples, earache or even migraine. As well as causing headaches, bruxism can damage your teeth and your jaw joint so it’s important to let your dentist know about your symptoms. Bruxism is more common in people with other sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnea17

Dark circles under your eyes?18

Dark circles under your eyes or puffy eyes can both be lack of sleep symptoms. You can try to relieve dark circles or puffy eyes by placing a damp, cool tea bag on each eye. Getting more sleep is the best way to reduce the appearance of dark circles and puffy eyes.

Sensitive to pain?19

Pain due to an injury or chronic condition can disrupt your sleep, but conversely a lack of sleep can increase your sensitivity to pain during the day. The good news is that if you can improve your sleep, it’s likely that your sensitivity to daytime pain may be reduced as well.

Getting heartburn?20

Heartburn isn’t a symptom of lack of sleep but it can make healthy sleep impossible. If you’re prone to heartburn, you probably find it often attacks when you’re lying down, trying to get to sleep. It can also wake you up during the night. If heartburn is interfering with your sleep, you can try some home remedies, such as sleeping on your left side, elevating the head of your bed, avoiding a heavy meal at night, steering clear of fatty or fried foods and cutting down on alcohol.

Losing weight can reduce the pressure on your stomach. Over-the-counter remedies are available, but if the problem persists and your sleep is still suffering, you should consult your doctor.

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Source: Belanger L et al. J Anxiety Disord. 2004;18(4):561-71.


Source: Kalmbach, DA et al. Sexual Medicine 2015:12;5, 1221-32.


Source: Besedovsky, L et al. Pfugers Arch 20 12. Jan; 463(1): 121-37


Source: Lerousseau L Rev Mal Respir. 2018 Feb;35(2):116-133


Source: Landis CA et al. Sleep. 1998;21(1):101-8.


Source: 2019 Wei Y, et al. Front Psychiatry. 2018; 9: 377.