Sleep Deprivation in Modern Society by Symone Richardson

Have you ever been halfway through your road trip and realized that you forgot driving the last 10 miles? Have you ever read the same page of a book repeatedly without being able to process the content? These might be signs that you are being affected by a condition called sleep deprivation. Up to 35% of adults suffer from insufficient amounts of sleep. Adults are recommended to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night but average around 6.4 hours during the week and 7.7 hours on the weekend. Certain people are more susceptible to sleep deprivation, for example those with sleep apnea or parents of newborns. This condition is silently becoming an increasing problem in modern society.


The causes of sleep deprivation can be voluntary factors, come from external environments, or work, study and sleeping habits. Consuming stimulants such as energy drinks or coffee close to bedtime can fall under voluntary causes of sleep deprivation. Other voluntary causes can include social life or using technology such as cell phones and laptops late at night. Work or study commitments can contribute to sleep deprivation in teenagers and adults as they neglect sleep to complete assignments. Shift workers who work long or overnight shifts and those who often fly for work and experience jet lag often develop this condition because of interrupted sleep patterns. External environment factors such as city noise, sharing a space with someone who snores, parents of newborn babies and artificial light contribute to sleep deprivation. Pre-existing sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia can intensify sleep deprivation.


Body and Mind

Sleep deprivation can have negative long and short term impacts on one’s health . Sleep is essential to the body because it works to maintain proper brain function and physical health; this includes mental health and well-being. Depression and other mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder and psychosis can be linked to sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep makes the brain incapable of putting emotional events into perspective potentially having damaging effects on relationships. Poor memory recall can influence relationships by making one seem inattentive or unreliable at home or in the workplace. Sleep deprivation also weakens the immune system making one more susceptible to developing illness, slows the healing of wounds and increases the perception of pain.

Veterans and PTSD

In a study done by a sleep expert at John Hopkins School of Medicine, the surveyed population of veterans averaged 5.6 hours per night as opposed to the 6.4 hours that the general population gets. Most of the veterans reported sleep disturbances, 70% having trouble falling asleep and 75% claiming to have insomnia. These sleep disorders can be linked to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and are arguably a trademark of the disorder. Sleep apnea is also associated with veterans due to neurological or physical damage acquired during service. Sleep paralysis is a frightening mental and physical disruption of sleep where one not exactly awake or asleep. During sleep paralysis, one does not have the ability to move or speak and hallucinations usually occur. Sleep deprivation can cause these episodes to increase in frequency or intensity. In the general population, sleep paralysis is only prevalent in 40%, while in PTSD patients it is at 85%.

Young Adults

Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to children and young adults because their bodies and minds are still developing. Experts conclude that teenagers and young adults should be getting between 8-10 hours of sleep a night but rarely do. Around 68% of US high school students are getting an insufficient amount of sleep. This growing epidemic in students due to the cycle of staying up late to study, using energy drinks or caffeine and hectic after-school schedules contribute to a lack of sleep. With this lack of sleep young adult’s growth can be stunted due to the suppression of growth hormones, mental illnesses are triggered and the temptation for risky behavior is increased.

Drowsy Driving

The deadliest outcome of sleep deprivation is drowsy driving. Around 60% of adults in the United States have driven drowsy and 33% say they have fallen asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving is comparable to drunk driving because sleep deprivation can have effects on the body similar to drinking alcohol: these can include drifting in lanes, driving over rumble strips and forgetting driving the last couple miles. Driving after being awake for 18 hours is comparable to having a blood alcohol level of 0.5 and driving after being awake for 24 hours is comparable to a blood alcohol level of 0.10. In 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that drowsy driving contributed to 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths.


The most obvious solution for sleep deprivation is sleep, but it is not always that easy. Exercising throughout the day or close to bedtime can increase fatigue making it easier to fall asleep. Ambient lighting in the home can reduce exposure to bright light that can make one stay awake later. White noise machines can function as a night light for sounds in your sleeping environment. Reducing caffeine intake or only consuming it in the morning will make it easier to fall asleep at night as coffee has a 6 hour lifespan and takes about 24 hours to leave your system. Using technology in bed links bedtime with socializing; eliminating screen time will associate it back with sleeping. As a result of taking these steps, sleep deprivation can decrease exponentially and improve quality of life.