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Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a sleep disorder characterized by not having enough sleep, which can be either chronic or acute. Long-term sleep deprivation can cause death in some circumstances.

Sleep isn’t just time out from life. It’s an active state that’s important for renewing our mental and physical health every day. Adequate sleep is essential for our overall well-being and good health. It can affect every aspect of our life. More than 100 million Americans of all ages, however, regularly fail to get a good night’s sleep.

What are some of the health problems sleep disorders can cause?

  • Chronic fatigue, disorientation and the inability to accomplish everyday tasks
  • Increased risk of motor vehicle and industrial accidents
  • Increased risk for obesity due to a heightened appetite associated with sleep deprivation
  • Increased risk of diabetes and heart disease
  • Increased risk for psychiatric conditions including depression and substance abuse
  • Decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals, or remember new information

Learn more about the link between diabetes and sleep apnea.

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Most common sleep disorders:

  1. Upper Airway Resistance

    Loud snoring may be a signal that something is seriously wrong with breathing during sleep. Snoring indicates the airway is not fully open. For an estimated five out of every 100 people (typically overweight, middle-aged men with excess throat tissue), extremely loud snoring is the first symptom of sleep apnea.

  2. Sleep Apnea

    People with sleep apnea experience repeated breathing interruptions, sometimes several hundred a night. Sleep apnea is associated with morning headaches, sore throat and daytime drowsiness. It also has been connected to a serious heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation.

  3. Insomnia

    Often associated with life changes such as menopause, this persistent inability to fall asleep or stay asleep may be caused by sleep apnea, physical pain, medications or psychological factors such as depression or stress.

  4. Periodic Leg Movement Syndrome (PLMS)

    This condition involves leg muscle twitches that usually occur during sleep, leaving the person feeling restless during the night or excessively tired and sleepy during the day.

  5. Narcolepsy

    People with narcolepsy experience excessive sleepiness and may also experience intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep. These sudden sleep attacks may occur during any type of activity at any time of day.

What is OSA?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder that involves lapses in breathing during sleep. If left untreated, OSA can have a detrimental impact on a person’s health and well-being.

OSA occurs when muscles relax during sleep, which causes the soft tissue in the back of the throat to collapse and block the airway. Pauses in breathing can last from 10 seconds to a minute or more and end when the body briefly awakes to gasp for air. This cycle continues all night long. A person with severe OSA may stop breathing hundreds of times throughout a night.

Lapses in breathing characteristic of OSA result in drastic changes in blood pressure and oxygen levels, while also fragmenting sleep. Over time, untreated OSA puts a tremendous amount of stress on the body, and increases a person’s risk for other health complications.

For more information about Sleep Apnea, visit the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

The following are some of the health risks related to OSA:

High blood pressure:

Studies have shown that OSA can cause high blood pressure, also known as “hypertension.” The amount of increase in blood pressure is relative to the severity of OSA. Rises in blood pressure are also characteristic in children with OSA.

Heart disease:

Untreated OSA is a risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S. OSA increases your risk of an irregular heartbeat, coronary artery disease, heart attack and congestive heart failure. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that OSA even affects the shape of a person’s heart. Findings show that hearts of people with OSA are enlarged on one side, with thick walls and less ability to pump.


OSA increases your risk of having a stroke, the third leading cause of death in the U.S. A stroke is a “brain attack” that occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted as a result of a blood clot or broken blood vessel.

Brain damage:

A study in the journal Sleep in 2008 provided visual evidence of the brain damage that occurs in people with OSA. This damage affects parts of the brains that help control functions such as memory, mood and blood pressure.


Research shows that depression is common in people with OSA. This risk for depression increases with the severity of OSA.


OSA is associated with impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes, a leading cause of death in the U.S., occurs when the body fails to utilize insulin effectively. Research suggests that OSA can contribute to the onset of diabetes.


Not only is obesity a key risk factor for OSA, but significant evidence now indicates that OSA also promotes weight gain. OSA fragments sleep, which reduces a person’s energy level and physical activity. It can also disrupt the metabolism and alter hormones that regulate appetite, causing a person to eat more.


In 2008, two studies in the journal Sleep indicated that people with sleep apnea have a much greater risk of death than people without it. The risk is relative to the severity of sleep apnea and increases if left untreated.

OSA can be treated with a high level of success. Ample research proves that treating OSA with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy can reduce many of the health risks associated with the disorder.

Considering that we spend one third of our lives in bed, you'd think we might master the art of sleep. Yet America remains one seriously shut-eye-deprived, nap-craving country. A look at the facts, from A to Zzzzzz's.
— Sarah Van Boven

10: Average number of hours people slept per night before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879.

6.9: Average number of hours people sleep per weeknight today.

1953: Year two University of Chicago scientists identified the Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep, the dream state now known to be integral to good rest.

80: Percentage of the night spent in REM sleep as a newborn.

25: Percentage of the night spent in REM sleep as an adult.

1900: Year in which Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams, proposing that emotions buried in the unconscious surface in disguised form during sleep.

17: Percentage of people in a 2002 Sleep Foundation survey who admitted to having fallen asleep behind the wheel in the previous year.

14: Percentage of American women who sleep with a pet in their bed.

264: Number of straight hours 17-year-old Randy Gardner stayed awake as part of a science fair experiment in 1965, a world record.

14: Percentage of women who sleep in the nude, compared with 31 percent of men.

15: Percentage of people believed to be sleepwalkers.

80: Number of distinct sleep disorders identified by scientists.

26.5 million: Number of prescriptions for the sleeping pill Ambien written by U.S. doctors in 2005.

2006: Year The New York Times first reported that Ambien was a factor in a significant number of traffic arrests with users driving in their sleep.

23: Percentage of American couples who regularly sleep in separate beds, according to a study by the National Sleep Foundation.

50: Percent more likely a person is to be obese by sleeping only five hours per night than those with a full night's rest.

1.7: Times more likely that a person is to die from any cause if they sleep five hours or less per night.

65: Percentage of people who say they sleep on their side, versus just 15 percent who sleep on their stomach.

65: Percentage of Americans who say they lose sleep because of stress.

23: Percentage of people who blame family issues for the stress keeping them awake, as compared to 16 percent who worry about their finances and 2 percent about current events.

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