Sleep deprivation is the term used to describe the state caused by lack of adequate quantity and quality of sleep. It also includes involuntary or voluntary sleeplessness and disruption of the circadian rhythm.
Loss of sleep is a common problem in the modern society that affects both young people and adults. Occasional sleep interruptions quickly disappear, but consistent lack of sleep leads to drowsiness throughout the day, a low perception of life, and obesity.
In fact, staying awake for 24 hours causes reduced hand-to-eye coordination that is often similar to blood laced with alcohol by 0.1 per cent. It explains why lack of sleep increases the risk of accidents and injuries at the workplace. Lack of sleep in school-aged children is often linked to emotional difficulties like depression and poor performance.
A sleep-oriented study conducted in Italy and the United Kingdom on 1.3 million people showed that people who were sleeping for less than six hours a night were 12 per cent more likely to have a premature death.
Recent studies have pinpointed that sleep deprivation can affect social life in the following manner:
1. Reduced interaction with people – Lack of sleep causes people to become less social and lonely. The reason is that the brain has difficulties reading facial expressions and interprets most faces as threatening. As such, these individuals are less likely to engage in conversations with others and may be very irritable. Extreme deprivation of sleep causes victims to avoid social interactions altogether.
However, gender influences the extent of sleep deprivation in individuals. A vigilance task showed that the interaction of sleep-deprived men was more impaired than that of women. In fact, women performed better in verbal, interaction, and visuoconstructive activities than men. Science-based evidence explains that the behaviour is a result of women’s nurturing characteristics.
2. Increased emotional reactivity – Lack of sleep also leads to increased emotional reactivity, making people quick to judge, short-tempered, and emotionally volatile. Individuals who suffer the loss of sleep are likely to react negatively to bad situations. It is because lack of sleep enhances amygdala activity (the part of the brain that triggers negative feelings like anger).
It explains why victims are less adept at managing their emotions when working. A study conducted on medical residents showed that sleeplessness directly affected their mood as it reduced positive feelings. They also felt angry most of the time and displayed hostility and depression.
Additionally, loss of sleep affects how people react to positive experiences. They do not show a positive effect after making an achievement compared to individuals who have an adequate sleep. Lack of sleep also affects the subject’s local expressivity. As such he may exhibit negativity in speech by talking in flat, monotonic tones.
3. Inability to process emotional information – Sleeplessness also affects one’s ability to process emotional information. Subjects often gauge the feelings of other people inaccurately. As such, people who lack sleep are less attuned to how other individuals feel and are more likely to miss signals. Sleeplessness also reduces one’s ability to empathise with other people’s situations.
In fact, sleep-deprived people tend to be less facially expressive. Note that emotional experiences correspond to the expressions exhibited. As such, their failure to show any expression demonstrates the extent of the effects of lack of sleep.
In a work setting, lack of these crucial abilities affects teamwork, trust, and cooperation. Additionally, these sleep-driven inabilities on emotional sensitivity and empathy lead to conflict even in one’s relationships.
4. Effects on teamwork and performance – Teams with members who are sleep-deprived are likely to experience problems making decisions and solving problems. In an organisation, for example, loss of sleep causes increased unethical behaviour. As such, sleep-deprived individuals are more likely to cheat in work settings due to reduced self-control. In fact, it does not require a lot of lost sleep time to cause sleep-deprived individuals to act in such a manner.
Barnes’ study on the effects of sleep issues at the workplace showed that the difference between people who cheated and those who did not is a 22-minute period of sleep deprivation. Sleeplessness is also associated with deviant behaviour where the affected people are involved in vandalism, violence, theft, and rudeness.
Again, the difference between the number of hours of sleep between people with deviant and non-deviant behaviour is pretty narrow. The report showed that individuals who sleep for less than six hours are more likely to exhibit such unusual behaviour.
5. Low perception of self – Apart from the lack of empathy, sleep-deprived individuals tend to experience reduced perceptions of themselves. They make poor judgments about the degree to which fatigue affects their minds and overall performance.
General, self-care maintenance, and decision-making are also inhibited, and in cases of extreme sleep deprivation, individuals develop depression. Note that self-care decisions require cognitive and mental processes to gain knowledge.
It also involves comprehension activities that include remembering, thinking, judging, knowing, and problem-solving. Lack of sleep inhibits the part of the brain that is responsible for all such actions and causes affected individuals to engage in risky behaviours.
Helen Walsh, a 35-year-old novelist from Liverpool, suspected something was wrong when she saw her son’s head spin 360 degrees. She also claimed to have seen her deceased grandfather in her dreams.
Being a new mother, she was always exhausted and hardly found the time to sleep. Helen confessed to feeling depressed most of the time and even contemplated suicide. The nightmares began after the birth of her son after prolonged labour. Helen had been sleeping for three hours in four days and 45-minute periods of rest in two years.
Indeed, sleep deprivation adversely affects one’s social life. A good night sleep is essential for a balanced lifestyle. You don’t want to rant at everyone at work because you had few hours of sleep.
Image credit: Alyssa Miller
Alex Moore is a writer and editor. As a promoter of sound resting behaviours, Alex has done plenty of research on sleep and insomnia to which he contributes regularly on HomeRemedyShop. His burning desire is to make it as an expert in the field so if you have any suggestions for him, do not hesitate to leave a comment or get in touch on Twitter or Facebook.