12 Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation and its Effects on Your Life

Sleep deprivation can have profound effects on all aspects of your life. Learn the 12 key symptoms to look out for and how to mitigate them.


It's 3am. You just finished a big work project, or studying for an exam. You finally get into bed for some much-needed rest, but struggle to fall asleep. Before you know it, your 7am alarm goes off.

This is how sleep deprivation begins.

Though it may seem like no big deal to miss a night's rest here and there, the domino effect on can be powerful. You may not even realize that unhealthy sleep patterns have become chronic, or how much it's effecting your daily life.

Luckily, once you recognize the signs, there are many ways to help with sleep deprivation - like journaling, yoga, or aromatherapy.

We'll help you identify the 12 key symptoms of sleep deprivation to watch out for so you can implement some healthy changes right away.

What is Sleep Deprivation? Causes and Longterm Effects

Sleep deprivation is a term to describe your body's state-of-being after a significantly reduced amount of sleep.

It has a whole host of far-reaching effects beyond just feeling a little sleepy after a late night watching TV. The constant fatigue can cause problems in your professional life and personal relationships, increasing your stress load.

Even if you're getting your recommended 8 hours, you may still suffer from sleep deprivation: it can also stem from a significantly reduced quality of sleep.

Sleep deprivation can be caused by a sleep disorder, like insomnia. Other times, plain old stress, or major life transitions (like starting a new job with later hours) can be to blame.

12 Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

So, how do you know if you have sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation can look a little differently for everyone. You may only have some of the key symptoms listed below, or you may have them all. Here's what to look out for:

1. Fatigue

Tough time getting through that evening workout that's usually a breeze?

One of the hallmark symptoms of sleep deprivation is feeling extremely tired. You may not have the energy to keep up with your daily routine like you're used to.

2. Headaches

If you've noticed more headaches than usual, sleep deprivation might be the culprit.

A 2018 scientific review finds headaches and sleep deprivation are closely linked. This relationship can be a vicious cycle: sleep deprivation causes headaches, and chronic headaches can disturb your sleep patterns.

3. Mood Changes

When sleep is disrupted, levels of neurotransmitters and hormones that affect your mood (like dopamine and serotonin) are thrown all out of wack.

This can cause you to feel more down or irritated than usual.

4. Memory Difficulties

Keep forgetting where you put your phone? Or that important conversation from the day before?

During sleep, new information goes through memory consolidation, which helps new information "stick". Without sleep, it's harder to learn and retain important information.

5. Difficulty Concentrating

Sleeping on the job a little more than you'd like to admit?

Sleep deprivation often causes microsleeps - instances of quickly dozing off for a split second. This can be disruptive, and make it difficult to focus on tasks.

6. Poor Decision Making

According to a 2014 study, sleep deprivation affects brain connections in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functioning and decision-making.

Sleep deprivation tends to cause more risky, unwise decision making - financially and otherwise.

7. Slowed Reaction Time

Because quality sleep is so pivotal to brain function, sleep deprivation can slow down your ability to process information and react.

You may even notice yourself failing to respond to things like traffic signals while driving. This is why drowsy driving was responsible for about 90,000 car accidents annually, according to a study in 2015.

8. Weakened Immune System

If you've been getting sick more often than usual, sleep deprivation could be to blame.

Your immune system creates antibodies and cytokines, essential to fighting off illness, during sleep. When you're sleep deprived, your body's defenses are down, leaving you prone to infections.

9. Relationship Struggles

Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on cognitive reasoning as well as your mood. Along with that comes greater struggles handling conflict rationally and maintaining relationships.

Fighting with loved ones more often than usual could be a sign of sleep deprivation.

10. Reduced Productivity

Between falling asleep at the desk and the reduced brain functioning, sleep deprivation can cause you to fall behind at work when it matters most.

11. Weight Gain

Sleep deprivation causes your body to underproduce leptin, which tells your brain you're full, and overproduce grehlin, which tells your brain you're hungry.

If you notice unusual changes to your weight or appetite, it's possible sleep deprivation is to blame.

12. Hormonal Changes

Sleep deprivation has often been correlated with lower fertility and changes in sex drive.

This may be due to sleep deprivation's ability to throw hormone levels off balance - underproducing reproductive hormones estrogen and testosterone can lower your libido and fertility.

Treating Sleep Deprivation

The simple answer to curing sleep deprivation is, well, to get more quality sleep.

In order to do this, though, you'll have to treat the root cause of your sleep deprivation. This may mean seeing a doctor about underlying sleep disorders, or setting better boundaries at work.

You should also develop a routine to relax at bedtime. Helping your brain unwind goes a long way when it comes to getting a good night's sleep.

An easy way to start? Journaling.

Taking time to check in with yourself, reflect on the day, and write down anything that's worrying you gives you the freedom to set it aside until morning. And with a journaling app like jour, it only takes a few minutes right on your phone.

Read more about how journaling can help you sleep better.

Sleep well!

Sleep deprivation is a condition that results from decreased amount or quality of sleep from a number of underlying causes, like mental health, stress, or sleep disorders. Though forgoing sleep to spend more time on things like work and school is common, it can have serious consequences on your mental and physical health in the long run.

It's important to stay aware of sleep deprivation symptoms so you can recognize when you've stretched yourself too thin.

And remember - Jour is always here for you if you need a listening ear to unwind at the end of the day.