Sleep deprivation
January 9, 2006 2:30 PM   Subscribe

What are the effects of sleep deprivation?

I'm interested in finding out what happens to one's body and brain when they are subjected to sleep deprivation. Specifically, I'm looking for more concrete information as opposed to personal anecdotes on the subject. For example, I just came across a study that found that sleep deprivation impairs spatial memory and I also heard that mild sleep deprivation is often prescribed as a remedy for minor cases of depression. What are some other positive/negative outcomes of losing sleep?
posted by johnsmith415 to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Interesting article in Harvard Magazine covering some of the effects:

“We are living in the middle of history’s greatest experiment in sleep deprivation and we are all a part of that experiment,” says Stickgold. “It’s not inconceivable to me that we will discover that there are major social, economic, and health consequences to that experiment. Sleep deprivation doesn’t have any good side effects.”
posted by occhiblu at 2:35 PM on January 9, 2006

This is a decent paper, but the best part is the links to lots more sources at the bottom.
posted by krudiger at 2:38 PM on January 9, 2006

gyan linked to this in the blue some time ago. there's probaby a bunch of info there.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:48 PM on January 9, 2006

Here's a whole blog on sleep issues, including deprivation, by a sleep researcher. This dude argues that, among other things, Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez are outcomes of sleep deprivation (more here.) This recent study documents a correlation between sleeping less than 8 hours/night and a lowered mortality rate (they don't suggest a mechanism.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:55 PM on January 9, 2006

I'm not sure what kind of work you're doing, but if you're looking to speak with an expert on the subject, I know of a researcher at Cornell named James Maas. He's studied the effects of sleep deprivation extensively and is a walking reference book on the subject.
posted by lilybeane at 3:04 PM on January 9, 2006

johnsmith415, would you mind telling me your source for the sleep deprivation and depression link?

I don't have a source, but I remember watching an educational segment on TV about sleep deprivation. Long bouts without sleep (like several days) would eventually lead to the person "dreaming" while they were awake. I remember a test subject describing the little green men he saw climbing the building, and other such fantastical claims.
posted by teece at 3:04 PM on January 9, 2006

Nature had a supplement back in September on Sleep [here] which is all free to access.

here's a bit from the 'Clues to the functions of mammalian sleep' article on sleep deprivation:

Effects of sleep deprivation

Sleep restriction leads to a feeling of sleepiness and, depending on the nature of the sleep lost, to increases in the amplitude of the brain-wave signals that characterize NREM sleep and the amplitudes and frequencies of the eye movements and twitches that characterize REM sleep, when sleep is allowed. Sleep loss causes intrusions of sleep into waking that can displace behaviours that have obvious survival value. The fact that sleep debt can be accumulated suggests that sleep serves important functions that require some portion of the missed sleep amount to be made up. Although motivated humans can overcome sleepiness for short periods, they cannot perform at high levels for sustained periods.

The signs of long-term sleep deprivation, including skin lesions, hyperthermia followed by hypothermia, increased food intake and death, that have been noted in the rat, the subject whose response has been most thoroughly investigated, do not occur in the rat or cat even with total, long-term decortication, consistent with the lack of a positive correlation between cortical size and sleep time noted above. Many of these signs of sleep loss can be seen after hypothalamic damage and concomitant abnormal functioning of the endocrine and immune systems.

there are citations for follow up papers in the article.
posted by tnai at 3:21 PM on January 9, 2006

Nature had a supplement back in September....

erm... i meant October. Sorry.
posted by tnai at 3:56 PM on January 9, 2006

Response by poster: teece: I don't have a specific source for the sleep deprivation and depression information...I've definitely heard it in a number of places , though (both from my psychiatrist father and from a degree in psych).

A side note on your comment on the "dreaming" while awake due to extreme sleep deprivation, I heard about a similar case where a radio DJ decided to stay awake for a few days on the air and ended up hallucinating and totally losing it after about 2 days...
posted by johnsmith415 at 4:38 PM on January 9, 2006

I also heard that mild sleep deprivation is often prescribed as a remedy for minor cases of depression.

I'm not sure where you "heard" this, but from what I've read that's entirely incorrect. The opposite is generally true. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression (and vice versa). I'd be curious to see your source on this.
posted by jdroth at 5:04 PM on January 9, 2006

Never mind. Some judicious googling reveals that there really is a large school of thought that believes that sleep deprivation may help with depression, which is odd since I've dealt with both problems this year (the sleep deprivation as a result of apnea), and both from my reading and from my personal experience it seems clear to me that sleep deprivation exacerbates depression.
posted by jdroth at 5:07 PM on January 9, 2006

Watch the documentary called Hands on a Hard Body (imdb link). It documents a competition where the contestestants have to stand and hold their hand on a truck, and the winner is the person who holds their hand on the truck for the longest. What happens to people after 50 or 60 hours is really interesting.

This competition (which used to be annual), has now been discontinued because one of the severely sleep deprived contestants broke into a local shop, stole a gun, and shot himself after he lost (the best reference I could find on this is the first paragraph on this page).
posted by ancamp at 5:12 PM on January 9, 2006

Response by poster: jdroth: from what I recall of the sleep deprivation/depression stuff, it's only used in small doses and for a relatively short period of time (like, 1/2 hour to an hour less of sleep for a couple weeks)...I think you're right about long term sleep deprivation actually being a CAUSE of depression, though...
posted by johnsmith415 at 5:41 PM on January 9, 2006

posting questions on AskMe instead of googling... No, seriously!
posted by pmbuko at 8:42 PM on January 9, 2006

Some people with depression oversleep and oversleeping reinforces depression which creates a loop that requires a reduction in sleep to break. That's the justification I've heard for recommending less sleep for depression. My housemate has this, but he 10-12 hours per day and his doctor wants him to work gradually down to 8-9. Someone with depression and insomnia would not be asked to reduce how much they sleep.

I have always heard that sleep deprivation can trigger manic or hypomanic episodes in those who are susceptible (no link handy unfortunately).
posted by rhiannon at 11:20 PM on January 9, 2006

Peter Tripp was a radio DJ who in 1959 took part in a "Wakeathon" fundraiser for the March of Dimes. He ended up staying awake for approximately 8 days. However, at the end he was suffering from extreme paranoia, dementia, and he actually suffered permanent damage that lasted until well after the stunt ended and he had rested -- he had some kind of breakdown and was never the same again. His case led the Guness Book of Records to no longer recognise such stunts since they were deemed to put the person at risk.
During the course of his ordeal his thoughts became increasingly distorted and there were marked periods of irrationality. By the end of four days he could not successfully execute simple tests requiring focused attention. In addition, he began to have hallucinations and distorted visual perceptions. At one point Tripp became quite upset when he thought that the spots on a table were insects. He thought that there were spiders crawling around the booth and even once complained that they had spun cobwebs on his shoes.

He showed the same increasing moodiness and paranoia that Gardner did. On his last day, a neurologist was called to examine Tripp before sending him home. When Tripp looked up at this doctor in his dark, old-fashioned suit, he had the delusion that the doctor was really an undertaker who was about to bury him alive. Overtaken with fear, he let loose a scream and bolted for the door. Half-dressed, Tripp ran down the hall with doctors and psychologists in pursuit. He could no longer distinguish the difference between reality and nightmare.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:43 AM on January 10, 2006

for what it's worth, my win percentage is much much lower when playing freecell if i'm notably sleep deprived.
posted by lohmannn at 10:47 AM on January 10, 2006

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