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What is Sleep and the Effects of Sleep Deprivation

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Biology 202
2000 First Web Report
On Serendip

What is Sleep and the Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Tina Chen

Sleep is one of the things that most students can say they do not get enough of. It is a time for us to rest and for a few blissful hours hopefully forget about the stress and worries of school and life. Unfortunately, due to too much work or too much studying to do, often enough, we do not get the amount we need each night to be fully rested the next day. But we have learned to cope with the sleep deprivation by drinking coffee in the morning to wake us up. Even though we are awake, how well can we function throughout the day when we have only had less than five hours of sleep? How much does our behavior change without enough sleep?

Before we get to what the effects of sleep deprivation are, let us first look at what sleep is. Sleep is controlled by neurotransmitters, which act on different neurons in the brain. Some of these neurotransmitters produced, such as serotonin and norephinephrine keep the brain active while we are awake. Researchers think that adenosine builds up in our blood while we are awake and the gradual breakdown of it causes drowsiness. There are five stages of sleep: stage 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM or rapid eye movement sleep. During stage 1-4 of sleep, our brain waves become slower and slower until we switch to REM sleep. At that point, our breathing is more rapid and irregular and our eyes move rapidly under our eyelids. (1).

Circadian sleep rhythm is the internal body clock that is controlled by the hypothalamus. Every twenty-four to twenty-five hours, the cycle repeats itself, which can be effected by light exposure. It is thought that light will reset the clock of your body. The low-point of the rhythm is in the morning, which is thought to help you stay asleep so that you are fully rested and aids in preventing you from waking up too early. Then there is the higher point of the circadian rhythm that allows you to wake up and stay active throughout the day. Then finally, there is again a downswing to make you sleep and the cycle begins all over again. (2).

Why is sleep so important to us? There have been studies done that suggest that sleep deprivation can be detrimental to or decrease the function of our immune systems. Just think, how often was it that after many days of continual sleep deprivation did you start to think that you had a cold? Sleep deprivation can also result in a decrease in core body temperature, decrease in the release of growth hormone, and possible cause an increase in heart rate variability. Sleep also seems to be important in order for our nervous system to work properly. Without sufficient amount of sleep, our behavior and our ability to do things are impaired. We feel drowsy and are unable to concentrate after not getting enough sleep. With enough sleep deprivation, it has been found that some begin to hallucinate and develop mood swings. Higher-ordered cognitive task become more difficult to do where it has been shown that tests that require speed and accuracy have lower results compared to those that are not sleep deprived. Judgment is also impaired; it has been tested that riskier behavior is more likely to occur when sleep deprived. (2).This is part of the reason why you should not drive when you are sleep deprived. Aside from the risk of falling asleep at the wheel, since judgment is impaired, you may make the wrong decision when driving that could cause an accident.

As stated before, when deprived of sleep high-ordered cognitive tasks are more difficult to accomplish. This is why sleep deprivation is so detrimental to students. It has been shown that verbal learning is highly affected by lack of sleep. Recalling things is also more difficult which is why it is important to have sufficient amounts of sleep before taking an exam. (3). It has also been found that thinking and speech can also be impaired. When you do not get enough sleep, it becomes more difficult to communicate to others. The problem is that it is hard to find the right words to say what you are thinking. This suggests that access to long term memory is impaired. Also, when speaking, a person who is sleep deprived will usually speak in a monotone. (4). Just remember to the last time you did not get enough sleep and recall how there were times when you found it difficult to communicate to your friends. Finding the right words, speaking them, and being able to concentrate must have been hard to do.

Sleep is important part of our daily lives. Without it, we would not be able to function well. However, many people, especially students, do not get enough of it. The results are not positive. With lack of sleep, many things are impaired such as memory, judgment, verbal learning and more. All of those things are vital to be a good student because without it, how can you study, do well on an exam or participate in discussions? The only effect of sleep deprivation that you can slightly counteract is drowsiness, which can be reduced by drinking coffee or anything that may have caffeine. Napping in the afternoon can help reduce some of the effects, but it is better to keep those naps short or else, you may end up more tired and groggy than before. So, without enough sleep our behavior will change making us worse students. Therefore, we can conclude that we all need more sleep!

WWW Sources



3) taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v403/n6770/full/403655a0_fs.html




Comments made prior to 2007

Hello, I am concerned about a friend of mine. She goes days with little to no sleep. She sleeps maybe 1 to 3 hours a day and is full of energy, just the oposite of what you would expect from someone who isn\'t sleeping. She says she feels like she has so much to do and discover. She feels this need like god is calling her to write a book. All of a sudden she has become super religious and talks like she is on a path no one but her can understand.

I'm fearful that she may be halucinating not that I'm a doctor but none of this makes much sense to me.

Do you have an opionion? Is there a medical explination for someone like her?

I appreciate any information you care to share with me so that I can help my friend ... Gail, 8 August 2006


vidyasagar's picture

request for sources

i am vidyasgar from india m doing my a project on sleep deprivation effects on voice and and speech kindly advice me the sources where i can refer for my project...

unknown's picture

I would like to know more

I would like to know more about sleep deprivation on the mind

Anonymous's picture


does it mean that lack of sleep can shortern once life?

ranjan's picture

sleep disorder problem

hi my name is ranjan.I got the sleep deprivation problem from the last 4 years. despite of repeated trying iam not been able to sleep.I counsulted with the australean doctor but no good sign pls help me Iam from india.

darksouls's picture

sleep problems

medical marijuana has many different effects. some strains can help you relax and fall asleep,other help with pain and other disorders. talk to your doctor and see if you can be tested for use of medical marijuana. it has help me with pain and sleeping problems.

Ann Dixon's picture

for further reading on sleep deprivation

kristina's picture


I am doing a science fair project on sleep deprivation. can you send me the causes and effects of it pleeze and thank you kristina