Sleep deprivation: sleep deprivation consequences and making up for a deficiency

Sleep deprivation has short- and long-term consequences. How does sleep deprivation affect you and can you make up for sleep deprivation? Roughly speaking, we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. Although the function of sleep has not yet been fully understood, all scientists agree that sleep is indispensable to humans and that sufficient sleep is necessary for good health and well-being. Sleeping is one of the most important human needs and just as important as good nutrition and exercise. But a good night’s sleep is quite a challenge in today’s 24-hour society. Many people today suffer from sleep deprivation, which can have a variety of negative physical and mental effects, depending on the nature and severity of disturbed sleep. A night of poor sleep has a negative effect on concentration and reaction time the next day for many people, but long-term sleep deprivation can lead to more serious disruption.

  • Sleep deprivation: key points
  • Sleep and age
  • How much sleep do you need?
  • Necessity of life
  • Sleep debt
  • Catch sleep
  • Sleep in
  • Consequences and symptoms of sleep deprivation or too little sleep
  • Decreased concentration and reaction time
  • Mental fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Gloom
  • Irritability
  • Weakened immune system
  • Always hungry and craving junk food
  • Physical complaints
  • Skin aging
  • Serious brain damage due to too little sleep
  • Catch up on sleep deprivation
  • More and more young people are sleeping too little
  • Can prebiotic foods improve your sleep?
  • Prebiotics
  • Inulin


Sleep deprivation: key points

  • The amount of sleep you need varies per person and depends on several factors.
  • Sleep deprivation is like a financial debt that you have to repay.
  • Sleep deprivation can have short-term consequences, such as reduced concentration and reaction time.
  • Sleep deprivation can lead to irreversible damage to the brain in the long term.

 On average, women need half an hour more sleep than men / Source: DieterRobbins, Pixabay

Sleep and age

How much sleep do you need?

The amount of sleep a person needs depends on many factors, including his or her age. Generally speaking, babies need about 16 hours of sleep per day. Young people need about 9 hours of sleep on one ear and most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, although some people need 5 hours and others need 10 hours of sleep per day. Women in the first 3 months of pregnancy often need a few extra hours of sleep. Women generally need half an hour more sleep than men. Experts say that if you feel sleepy during the day and have reduced concentration and reaction time, you haven’t had enough sleep.

Necessity of life

Sleeping is a basic necessity, as are eating and drinking. During sleep, the body and mind relax because muscles relax, heart rate and breathing slow down and you are closed off from the world around you. The brain also needs sleep to fill up with new energy. While sleeping, the brain produces new fuel in the form of glycogen. You use this substance during your activities during the day.

Sleep debt

Catch sleep

William C. Dement introduced the concept of ‘sleep debt’, which means that the brain keeps track of how much sleep has been missed and therefore still needs to be caught up. According to Dement, the sleep deficit is added to the previous night after each night and any accumulated missed sleep must be repaid hour by hour later. It looks like a financial debt that you have to repay. So there is no point in going to bed a little earlier if you have not slept enough for several days in a row. You cannot then pay off the entire sleep debt in one go. Fortunately, our bodies only need to catch up on one-third of the missed sleep, as the brain automatically makes a correction by extending the duration of deep sleep, improving the effectiveness of sleep. By regularly getting extra sleep you can avoid a sleep debt and feel fitter and more energetic.

Sleep in

Moreover, research by sleep expert Alexandros Vgontzas from Pennsylvania shows that trying to catch up on sleep by sleeping in on the weekend does not help at all. Going to bed earlier is the most effective method to get rid of tiredness and sleep deprivation. Too bad for all late risers, but there is no point in sleeping in. Going to bed earlier gives more space to ‘deep sleep’ at the start of the sleeping process.

Consequences and symptoms of sleep deprivation or too little sleep

What are the consequences of sleep deprivation? Too little sleep can lead to:

Decreased concentration and reaction time

Your reaction time becomes slower and you have more difficulty paying attention. This is especially dangerous if you participate in road traffic as a driver, whether you drive bumper to bumper during rush hour or drive at high speed on almost deserted roads at night. With reduced concentration, the risk of accidents increases.Mental fatigue / Source:

Mental fatigue

Mental fatigue makes you more likely to make mistakes, especially later in the day. In a work situation, this could include making mistakes when operating complex equipment or administrative work. Recording and processing information becomes more difficult. Your creativity also suffers greatly from sleep deprivation. Especially coming up with solutions for complex problems is no easy task when you are tired. You can also be thrown off track by even the simplest decisions. For students, their learning performance is deteriorating. Tired people also appear to take greater risks to achieve better results. The negative effects of mental fatigue on task performance can be somewhat compensated by extra effort.

Memory problems

Sleep deprivation leads to memory problems. You also cannot absorb new information very well when you lack sleep.


Sleep deprivation is bad for your mood. Chronic sleep deprivation changes the serotonin system in the brain. Too little serotonin is associated with depression and stress, and serotonin dysregulation is the basis of many psychological complaints.


Lack of sleep can make you irritable, for example you may become angry about something very small and trivial. Too short a fuse can lead to all kinds of social problems.

Weakened immune system

A lack of sleep can eventually lead to a weakened immune system, which leads to all kinds of health problems. People with a less well-functioning immune system are more susceptible to infections, including flu and colds.Overweight due to chronic sleep deprivation / Source:

Always hungry and craving junk food

Chronic sleep deprivation causes a constant feeling of hunger. Research shows that after a short night’s sleep we often crave a fatty snack and that chronic sleep deprivation disrupts blood sugar levels, causing the body to produce less leptin, a hormone that satisfies your hunger, and more ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates the appetite. These physiological changes increase the chance that you will eat more than your body needs and that you will be more likely to reach for unhealthy food, the well-known ‘fatty snack’ or sweets. Tired people are drawn to sugars and simple carbohydrates, which contain empty calories and no other important nutrients. The tired body craves a quick boost. Because sleep is disastrous for your self-discipline and self-control, you are more likely to reach for the bag of chips instead of a healthy snack. Chronic sleep deprivation can therefore lead to obesity.

Physical complaints

With sleep deprivation you suffer from all kinds of physical complaints, such as muscle pain, headache, nausea, dizziness, shaking hands and yawning. According to the Dutch Journal of Medicine, headaches and chronic sleep deprivation are an often misunderstood relationship in children and adults. Experience shows that people who are prone to headaches often have a higher than average need for sleep.

Skin aging

Swedish research shows that people who sleep little for a short period of time have significantly more drooping eyelids, red and swollen eyes, dark circles, pale skin, wrinkles, fine lines and drooping corners of the mouth than people who get a good night’s sleep.[1] American research into the effect of long-term poor or inadequate sleep on the skin shows that people who sleep too little or poorly for a long period of time are more likely to experience accelerated skin aging.[2]

Serious brain damage due to too little sleep

An irregular sleep pattern with chronically insufficient sleep causes irreversible damage to the brain. Even catching up on sleep is of no use at all. This is evident from research published in the Journal of Neuroscience . Sleeping little for a long time causes the death of neurons in the brain that are involved in regulating your sleep rhythm and your concentration. This damage is irreversible. (Source:, March 20, 2014)

Catch up on sleep deprivation

By regularly going to bed a little earlier, you can avoid a (dangerously) high sleep debt and make you feel happier and more vital. Your mental abilities improve, your enjoyment of life increases and your motivation, endurance, concentration, memory and insight improve. Uninterrupted, undisturbed sleep is of utmost importance. Take the followingMoving is healthy! / Source: to note:

  • Try to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night so as not to build up a ‘sleep deficit’ and eliminate a sleep deficit by going to bed half an hour earlier for a longer period of time. This may take several weeks.
  • Sleeping comfort is a combination of a good mattress, a suitable bed base and a good pillow. Be informed by a specialist.
  • Regular exercise is the cure for insomnia. Research shows that regular exercise helps combat insomnia and also improves sleep quality.
  • Eat healthily and in doses and it is best not to eat half an hour before going to sleep.
  • Sleep in a bedroom that is as dark and quiet as possible.
  • Ensure as little stress as possible before going to sleep. Don’t watch TV programs just before going to sleep, but read a relaxing book or get a massage from your partner.
  • Do not drink alcohol before going to sleep.


More and more young people are sleeping too little

Research from Columbia University shows that more and more young people are sleeping too little. Female students and young people from lower social classes in particular regularly sleep less than seven hours. Particularly in the period 1991-2000, more young people got too little sleep. In 1991, 72 percent of 15-year-olds slept longer than 7 hours per night. In 2012 this had fallen to 63 percent. Researchers suspect that there is a connection with the internet and social media use of young people. The decline now appears to have stabilized somewhat. Too little sleep affects the health of young people. It causes several health problems, both mental and physical. Sleep deprivation can also have a negative effect on school performance, weight and susceptibility to addictions. For this study, 270,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 18 were asked to report on their sleep duration. The research was published in the journal Pediatrics . (Source:, February 16, 2015)

Can prebiotic foods improve your sleep?


Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates and dietary fiber and you get them by eating vegetables, fruit, bread, grain products and legumes. Prebiotics are important for healthy intestines. However, prebiotics should not be confused with probiotics. Probiotics are living bacteria that are mainly found in yogurt drinks.The bacteria that live in your gut do more than just digest and metabolize the food you eat. A large body of research shows that these bacteria are an integral part of your overall health and well-being and can positively influence the activity of hundreds of genes and your immune system. When you add good bacteria to your intestinal tract, they are called probiotics. Another way to influence the friendly bacteria in your gut is to give them the nutrients they need to multiply. These nutrients are called prebiotics.Inulin is found in garlic / Source:


Prebiotics are mainly found in fiber-rich foods. Friendly bacteria thrive on indigestible fiber. Inulin is a type of water-soluble fiber found in onions, garlic, leeks and asparagus that helps feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Now researchers have discovered that dietary prebiotics have a significant effect on the sleep cycle, made up of non-REM sleep and REM sleep; prebiotics can positively influence sleep quality.[3] You can also take inulin as a nutritional supplement.Note:

  1. Sundelin T, Lekander M, Kecklund G, Van Someren EJ, Olsson A, Axelsson J. Cues of fatigue: effects of sleep deprivation on facial appearance. Sleep. 2013 Sep 1;36(9):1355-60. doi:10.5665/sleep.2964.
  2. University Hospitals Case Medical Center. (2013, July 23). Sleep deprivation linked to aging skin, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2018 from
  3. Robert S. Thompson, Rachel Roller, Agnieszka Mika, Benjamin N. Greenwood, Rob Knight, Maciej Chichlowski, Brian M. Berg and Monika Fleshner. Dietary Prebiotics and Bioactive Milk Fractions Improve NREM Sleep, Enhance REM Sleep Rebound and Attenuate the Stress-Induced Decrease in Diurnal Temperature and Gut Microbial Alpha Diversity. Front. Behav. Neurosci., January 10, 2017 |


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