What sleep deprivation does to your health

Posted on 3 January 2019

With today’s fast-paced, always-on lifestyle, it’s not surprising that we’re not getting enough sleep. In fact, sleep deprivation is one of the biggest public health crises of our time, with an estimated one-third of adults not getting enough sleep.

But how much sleep do we need? And how does inadequate sleep affect our health?

How much sleep is enough?

Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to sleep, says Dr Cheyip, a neurologist at Mediclinic Morningside. “Your required nightly sleep depends on numerous factors,” he explains. “Your stage of life plays an important role. From young adulthood, an average of six to eight hours is a good night’s sleep, whereas adolescents and the elderly need about ten hours. Yet this varies as people are different – the more important question is how do you know you’re not getting adequate sleep? The answer – when you wake up in the morning and you’re still feeling drowsy and sleepy. This means, no matter how long you’ve been in bed, you didn’t have adequate sleep.”

The impact of sleep deprivation

Essential for maintaining both your mental and physical wellbeing, sufficient sleep is one of the most important factors in maintaining overall health. While there are many causes of inadequate sleep, stress, alcohol and certain drugs are particularly detrimental. “The problem with sleep deprivation is the lack of rest and of the restorative functions that you get from the brain,” says Dr Cheyip. “This affects both the psychological and emotional side as well as the physiological side of your functioning.”

Quality sleep is associated with the rapid eye movement (REM) period of sleep where your body becomes more relaxed as your brain becomes increasingly active. During the normal cycle of sleep, people spend about 20% of the time in REM but disrupted sleep derails the cycle, impacting memory, the nervous and immune systems, and more.

Sleep deprivation and your health


sleep deprivation, insomnia, lack of sleep


Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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