The young girl nods off in the middle of her history lecture as she struggles to keep her eyes open after pulling a 12 hour shift at work and staying up late to finish a class project. The father downs his fourth cup of coffee as he sits at his desk, trying to shake the sleepy haze that clouds his mind. The mother zones out as she stands at the kitchen sink washing dishes. The young boy fights off sleep as he drives to his early morning class after pulling a late-night shift at the drive-through restaurant. These are not at all uncommon situations, and there are many more just like them. Whether from a personal experience, observing someone else, or hearing a friend talk about it, most people have had some sort of encounter with the effects of long-term sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is a term most are familiar with, some more so than others, but the real mystery is in how it impacts our lives; the issue of sleep deprivation boils down to whether or not sleep deprivation is harmful, what leads to sleep deprivation, and what steps can be taken to prevent its occurrence.
People who suffer from extreme sleep deprivation exhibit symptoms: trouble focusing, incoordination, moodiness, problems concentrating, hallucinations, muscular weakness, difficulty speaking, and occasional paranoia. The effects of compounded lack of sleep can be seen in physical, mental, and emotional anomalies Dark circles under the eyes, droopy eyelids, constant yawning, and changes in breathing and heart rate are some of the physical symptoms, while mentally we see the effects in things such as slow reflexes, slurred speech, confusion, and micro-sleeps. The emotional impact is also threatening in that it can lead to depression, anxiety, paranoia, and obsessive tendencies. Any of these side effects can have a negative impact on an individual and it is not difficult to see the dangerous circumstances and situations they can place people in when they are not handled accordingly.
A classic example of this is someone who snaps at everything anyone says or blows up and the most innocent of jokes or teasing, with the justification that they had a bad night or didn’t get any sleep. The potential danger caused by sleep deprivation is evident. If someone is constantly yawning and ‘nodding off’ while they are driving or at a job that requires them to operate heavy machinery, then they pose a great risk to not only themselves but to anyone who is around them; the risk of them falling asleep is extremely high and poses a huge safety risk. Sleep deprivation can also damage a person on an emotional level.
Stress can cause the onset of sleep deprivation and left undealt with, the sleep deprivation builds and can lead to more dangerous issues such as depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide. It is easy to see how these negative changes in a person’s attitude and processes impact the day-to-day life of anyone who suffers from sleep deprivation.