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5 Stages Of Sleep Deprivation- How It Affects Your Productivity.

14 min read
Last Updated on 10 June, 2024

In today's hyper-connected, globalized world, where everyone's hustling and working, spending more time on electronic devices, and meeting deadlines has become the new normal. The working culture today has changed, and overtime or overworking is normalized. But often, people forget about how detrimental it is to their health.

Sleep is essential for survival, and depriving yourself of it can negatively affect your health and have long-term health consequences and safety concerns.

Going berserk for a night or two can be improved, but if you are sleep deprived for a longer time, you can suffer from brain fog and other cognitive disorders. Thus, in medical terms, sleep deprivation has been categorized based on how long you stay awake.

In this article, you will learn more about the condition, its different stages, how it can affect your productivity at work and a bit about Sleep Awareness Week.

What is Sleep Deprivation?


Sleep deprivation is a condition that occurs when you don't get enough sleep. It is a general term defined for an inadequate amount of sleep, although what amounts a sufficient amount of sleep can differ from person to person.

This condition has two stages- total and partial. It is not a condition but rather a by-product of poor sleep hygiene. It can be caused by other stimulants such as overwork , late-night work shifts or pulling all-nighters. Either way, if you don't meet your sleep requirement enough, you'll be sleep deprived.

The amount of sleep your body requires is different for every individual. Your sleep requirement may have something to do with genetics. And it's not simply eight hours for everyone. The average sleep requirement is 8 hours 10 minutes, plus or minus 44 minutes, but 13.5% may need 9 hours or more sleep a night.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends at least minimum 7hrs of sleep. Unfortunately, only one-third of the adults in the United States report getting less than this. It is mostly because of increasing work demand and more social media and television access.

This condition can be both acute and chronic. Acute deprivation is when you pull an all-nighter due to work or study. But chronic is when you cannot sleep consistently for a long period. A little sleeplessness is not serious, but a chronic one will take a toll on your physical and mental health.

Its types-

1. Partial Sleep Deprivation

This type involves getting fewer hours of sleep or poorer quality sleep than your body and brain need to function optimally. It's effects can build over time and add to your sleep debt. It often results in chronic stress, fatigue, lower levels of efficiency, and the occurrence of "microsleeps."

One of the longest recorded sleep experiments was in 1964, when a teenage boy managed to stay awake for 264 hours, or approximately 11 days.

2. Total Sleep Deprivation

This particular type mimics the stages seen when someone is completely cut off from sleep. The effects of this condition can be broken down into 3 stages based on how long you have been awake

  • Stage 1 is defined as 24 hours without sleep. It harms you as it compromises your motor abilities to function properly. You might experience a higher level of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline rush in your body.

  • Stage 2 is defined as 48 hours without sleep. It intensifies the symptoms of stage 1 and worsens cognitive function. During this stage, people start to experience microsleep.

  • Stage 3 is defined as 72 hours without sleep. It magnifies all the previous signs and symptoms of Stages 1 and 2. People may also have difficulty communicating with others and develop paranoia and delusions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after 24 hours without sleep, your alertness is similar to those with a blood alcohol content of 0.10%.

Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation


When you are sleep deprived, it can have several adverse mental and physical effects on your health. The most common symptom is daytime nap or exhaustion. But microsleep, even though it is not known to many people,is the most common side effect or symptom.

Micro sleep is the phenomenon where you take a nap or fall asleep for micro minutes or seconds. It refers to very short periods of sleep that can be measured in seconds rather than minutes or hours. People who experience these can doze off without them realizing it.

Apart from microsleep and daytime naps, there are other symptoms as well-

  • Feeling tired or irritable

  • Loss of concentration

  • Feeling sluggish or drowsy in the afternoon

  • Quickly falling asleep irrespective of place or time

  • Diminished sex drive

  • The urge to sleep late on the weekend

  • Frequent mood changes

  • Feeling more anxious and stressed out

Sleep hygiene is the upkeep of daily and nightly behaviors that affect how you sleep.

Suggested Read : 11 Useful Ways To Avoid And Overcome The Afternoon Slump At Work

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Safety is one of the most important concerns regarding sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep can lower your reaction to time and affect your judgment and decision-making ability. It is most prevalent among 9-5 workers, who are the most sleep-deprived population. Your job requires a lot of attention and accuracy, and if you're suffering from lack of sleep, it can directly affect your productivity level.

Again further to this, it's effects on the brain are very noticeable and manifest quickly. It disrupts and slows down the communication between neurons in your brain. It results in impaired memory, difficulty in making decisions, and slower cognitive function.

Here are a few effects on your body -

  • Change in energy and mood swings

  • Spike in mental health problems

  • Weakened immune system

  • Impaired brain function and activity

  • Impacting the Cardiovascular system

  • Affects the relationship, both personal and work

Thus, a sleep deprived person can have cumulatively negative effects on both their mental and physical health.

Suggested Read : 25 Best Ways To Achieve Work-Life Balance and Its Benefits

What Are The Stages Of Sleep Deprivation?


Acute sleep deprivation refers to staying awake without sleep for a prolonged period. It can affect your perception of reality and cause hallucinations. Even though it does not have a formal stage, certain symptoms tend to appear based on the length of time you've been awake.

In addition, this condition becomes more severe the longer you're awake, so you might not survive. The following is a breakdown of its symptoms by the hour.

1. Stage 1- 24 Hours Without Sleep

Stage 1 has been experienced by almost everyone. Pulling an all-nighter is common; almost everyone must have gone through it for work or personal reasons. Even though going without sleep for 24 hours does not harm your health, the effects can be improved by getting a good night's sleep.

The effects of staying awake for 24 hours can vary from one person to another. However, some common effects are experienced by almost everyone when they go a day without sleep.

  • Anxiety or irritability

  • Impaired visuals or visual distortions

  • Fatigue or drowsiness

  • Struggle to concentrate

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

  • Increased appetite

  • Weak hand-eye coordination

Suggested Read : 15 Minutes Power Nap At Work : What You Need To Know

Stage 2 - 36 Hours Without Sleep

Stage 2 is much more severe than the previous one. When awake for more than 36 hours, your cognitive functions are compromised. Your urge to fall asleep will be more severe, and you'll experience microsleep.

You'll experience involuntary episodes of unconsciousness. And along with the symptoms of stage 1 being intensified, you'll experience some new symptoms causing more distress-

  • Altered sense of time. You may feel like time is passing slowly

  • Inability to make decisions

  • Lowered immunity

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Increased consumption of junk food

  • Simple visual hallucinations

  • Disordered thoughts and negative emotions

Suggested Read : Guided Sleep Meditation To Beat Workplace Stress

Stage 3- 48 Hours Without Sleep

Stage 3 occurs when you are awake for more than 48 hours, which is unhealthy for your health as it can harm your mental and physical health.

Staying awake for two days straight makes you more prone to accidents. It weakens your immune system. This is because the body experiences a drop in natural killer cells that have antiviral and anti-tumor properties.

The symptoms of stage 3 are similar to the first two days of staying awake. It will start to snowball, and you might even begin hallucinating. Here are some symptoms of experiencing stage 3 of sleep deprivation-

  • Increased anxiety and stress

  • Extreme mood swings

  • Severe exhaustion

  • Impaired cognitive functions

  • Experiencing depression or euphoria

  • Experiencing auditory hallucinations

Suggested Read : 7 Ways You Can Help Employees Dealing With Work Anxiety

4. Stage 4- 72 Hours Without Sleep

Stage 4 occurs when you are awake for 72 hours straight. When you don’t sleep for 3 days straight, you'll find it difficult to stay awake and fall asleep without even realizing it. You are at your most vulnerable stage at this moment and end up experiencing microsleep.

You'll probably be able to think straight or experience severe mood swings. Delirium may set in, and you could become disoriented, confused about the time or date, unaware of your surroundings, or catatonic. By this point, you might start having hallucinations.

Here are some other symptoms of stage 4 that you may experience -

You may start experiencing delusions or hallucinations. It could be as simple as seeing something out of the corner of your eye that wasn't there, but they could also get more severe and complex.

From depressive moods to anxiety, paranoia, or even mania, your emotions will swing wildly.

5. Stage 5 - 96 Hours Without Sleep

Stage 5 onsets when you're awake for more than 96 hours straight. It is unethical to stay awake for 4 days as it can cause fatality. It will start to disrupt your connection to reality and your ability to function at the most fundamental level. After 4 days of no sleep, your grip on reality will not be firm enough for basic functions like reading, spelling, or even keeping your eyes open.

There will be disordered thinking, dilemmas, hallucinations, delusions, disassociation, and difficulty keeping track of time. Since it is unethical to go beyond 48 hours without sleep, much research hasn't been done on the damage that staying awake for four days does to your brain and overall health.

What Causes Sleep Deprivation?


The cause of sleep deprivation can vary from person to person. It can happen to anyone, but certain circumstances can worsen your risk. Poor habits, health conditions, and external circumstances are all reasons you may be sleep-deprived. Here are some of the reasons why you may be sleep deprived -

1. Poor Sleep Hygiene

Poor sleep hygiene is a common cause. It is possible to have poor sleep hygiene by:

  • sleeping in an uncomfortable bed or a noisy environment,
  • eating large meals before bed, or
  • using your bed for activities other than sleeping.

Poor sleep hygiene can negatively affect your health.

2. Excessive Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Stress, anxiety, and depression are also common causes. Stress at work and responsibilities in your personal life can keep you up at night, leaving you frantic and unable to fall asleep. Stress is normal from time to time, but chronic stress can result in fatality.

Suggested Read : Workplace Depression: What Every Employer Must Understand

3. Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are a huge culprit. While having a sleep disorder is a challenge itself and can inevitably affect your health and ability to sleep. Some common sleep disorders that cause sleep deprivation are sleep apnea, REM sleep behavior disorder, and insomnia.

Suggested Read : Try the Sleep Challenge and Feel More Productive at Work

In What Ways Can It Affect Your Productivity?


People who work shifts at odd hours are very much prone to experiencing the stages of sleep deprivation. They can experience an alteration in their circadian rhythms, the body's internal clock, or control over the sleep-wake cycle.

Although you might feel like you're getting used to working late and sleeping at odd hours, you might not sleep well enough or feel exceptionally energized while awake, which is when you're sleep-deprived.

The longer you go without sleep, the lousier you will feel. Perhaps that's why sleep loss is sometimes considered to be a kind of low-level brain damage. Here's how lack of sleep can affect your productivity at work

1. Poor Performance and Productivity

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, an average adult should get a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep. If you do not meet the average limit, you might suffer from sleep debt, which can further affect your performance at work.

You will feel tired, exhausted, and struggling to meet deadlines or attend meetings. It will become challenging for you to come up with new ideas.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, professionals spend an average of 4.5 hours doing work at home each week. This may represent a cycle where workers are less productive during business hours because they're tired, and so they bring work home to damage their sleep further.

2. Poor Physical Health Cause More Absenteeism

Lack of sleep can lead to adverse effects on your physical health; tiredness is a major factor. The feeling of fatigue at work is a common symptom of sleep deprivation, further weakening your immune system.

Reduced immune function is linked to bad sleep cycle and poor quality of life. It can make you more susceptible to common illnesses, which can keep you away from the office or encourage more absenteeism. According to one study, people who averaged less than seven hours of sleep were nearly three times more likely to develop a cold.

3. Affects Your Mood and Creates A Negative Work Environment

Sleep-deprived workforce can be quite dangerous. It can take a toll on your mental and cognitive abilities like perception, clouding your judgment, or ability to make decisions.

Lack of sleep can lead to mood-swings, causing you to be nervier at work. It can have a dramatic effect on your psychological health, causing paranoia, hallucinations, mania, and memory loss. And all of it could prove hugely detrimental on your job.

More subtle effects of poor sleep can prove challenging in an organizational environment. Teamwork and communication play a big role in corporate environments and are vital to professional success. The frayed nerves, moodiness, and lack of focus can strain the key social relationships fostered in the workplace.

Furthermore, diminished cognitive performance can have huge repercussions for jobs that demand critical attention to detail. For eg., surgeons, pilots, drivers, technicians, etc.

Suggested Read : Mood Meters : A New Corporate Health And Wellness Initiative

Sleep Deprivation: How To Reverse It?


If you regularly wake up unrefreshed and are tired during the day, it's time to take action to get the sleep you need. It can be tempting to pop a pill when you're desperate for rest. But you can do much to improve your sleep quantity and quality without relying on medication.

Improving the quality of life is key to preventing and treating sleep deprivation. Here are some of the ways for a medical and healthy lifestyle that can help you improve your sleep habit:

1. Good Sleep Hygiene

It is one of the most important and effective ways. By preparing yourself for better sleep, you will be able to fall asleep easily at night.

Here's how you can practice good sleep hygiene -

  • Follow a consistent sleep schedule

  • Avoid taking afternoon naps for longer than 30 minutes

  • Avoid screen time before your bedtime

  • Stop consuming caffeine for at least 8 hours before sleeping

  • Use a comfortable mattress and pillows

  • Use your bed for sleeping only

Suggested Read : Social Media Detox: All You Need To Know

2. Optimize Your Bedroom For A Better Sleep

Try to optimize your bedroom for a night of better sleep. The more your environment is comfortable, the easier it will be for you to fall asleep. Often poor lighting can disrupt your sleep pattern. Since too much light disrupts your body's natural melatonin production, it is essential to eliminate all sources of extra light harsh light.

Here's how you can further optimize your bedroom -

  • Use dark blinders or curtains to block or reduce light

  • Use an eye mask

  • You can use a white noise machine or earplugs to reduce noise elements

3. Engage Yourself In Physical Exercise Before Bedtime

Engaging in light exercise or practicing mindfulness or meditation can help calm your anxiety and reduce stress, which will further help you fall asleep much faster as it eases the symptoms of many sleep disorders.

Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days—but don't exercise too close to bedtime, or you may find it harder to fall asleep.

4. Seek Out Professional Help or Therapy

Talk to your healthcare provider or a sleep specialist if you practice good sleep hygiene and still experience sleepless nights. If you suspect a medical cause for your sleeplessness, seek professional help.

Consult your doctor if you have any chronic physical or mental health problems disturbing your sleep. You may need to change any prescription medications that are causing the problem.

Celebrating Sleep Awareness Week (March 12 to 18)

It cannot be stressed enough that a good night’s sleep plays a major role in maintaining your mental and physical health. Considering the detrimental consequences of a poor sleep routine, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) assigned March 12 - March 18 as “Sleep Awareness Week.”

NSF deliberately launched this awareness event to coincide with the commencement of daylight saving time. When daylight saving time begins, American residents must fast forward their clocks by one hour at 2 a.m. This causes the residents to lose one hour of sleep.

If you give an in-depth thought, sleeping one hour less doesn't look like something to worry out. On the other hand, health experts have different opinions. During this season, they witness a sharp increase in mood disorders, heart issues, and related sleep disorders.

To avoid such complications, you should start training your body clock 2 to 3 days before daylight saving time. Set the alarm 15 to 20 minutes earlier than your usual wake-up time.

So, you see, the National Sleep Foundation launched the sleep awareness week very thoughtfully. With this event, the organization aims to spread awareness about the importance of maintaining a healthy sleep schedule and managing your sleep health.

How Can Employers Observe Sleep Awareness Week At Work?

Promoting employee health is becoming an essential part of the corporate world culture. As an employer, if you want to incorporate the concept of employee wellness, then start off with observing sleep awareness week at your workplace.

Tips on commencing sleep awareness week for employees:

1. Interactive Session With A Health Coach

Arrange an interactive session with a specialized health coach this year. This is to educate your employees about the significance of a healthy sleep schedule. This is also a great opportunity for everyone to understand the different stages of sleep deprivation.

2. Partner with a corporate wellness company

A corporate wellness company provides services to improve the lifestyle choices and overall health of the employees of an organization. Vantage Fit is one such brand that delivers innovative solutions to elevate employee well-being and productivity.

3. Introduce learning modules with rewards

Roll out learning modules to educate employees further about why they should care for their sleep health. To make it interesting, incentivize employees who complete the module within a limited period.

4. Provide self-care hampers

Distribute specially assembled self-care hampers among your employees and clients to promote sleep awareness week and its urgency. You can include items such as chamomile tea sachets, scented candles, eye masks, and aromatherapy diffusers.

Summing It Up

Thus, the fact that your health can decline so rapidly after a few nights without sleep illustrates how important sleep is to almost every aspect of your health. Sleep is essential, so if you can't get proper sleep, see a professional therapist and prioritize getting a good night's sleep.

I hope this article provided you with a better understanding of sleep deprivation and its stages. You can always seek professional help or therapy if you suffer from either of them.

This article is written by Neha Yasmin who is a content marketer at Vantage Circle. A selenophile with a penchant for discovering great meals and drinks. Is a self-proclaimed binge racer with a knack for cooking in her spare time. For queries, reach out to editor@vantagecircle.com

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