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The Many Negative Impacts of Sleep Deprivation

Whether you’re a student, a parent, an employee, a professional athlete, any combination of all-of-the-above or fall into a category that we haven’t included on this list, getting enough sleep is absolutely essential to your ability to survive, let alone thrive. People who get the recommended amount of sleep feel alert in the morning when they wake up, and have no problem falling asleep at night when it’s time to turn in. Their energy levels remain (for the most part) consistent throughout the day, they are able to attack their goals with clear minds and focus, and they have a much lower risk of the many serious health conditions that often go hand-in-hand with chronic sleep deprivation.


One of the biggest challenges of sleep deprivation is that we as humans are often completely unaware of its many effects on our ability to function. People who are chronically sleep deprived have been shown to dramatically misjudge their own level of self-impairment, in much the same way that people are unable to tell when they are impaired by drinking too much alcohol, and this is true of both physical and cognitive capabilities. The brain has a remarkable ability to mask the fact that it is tired, but there are several telltale signs, including a marked drop in the level of sex drive, forgetfulness, becoming clumsy or forgetting tasks, gaining weight, and feeling irritable or depressed.


Those are the signs that are noticeable and overt. Unfortunately, if you are consistently sleeping fewer than six hours per night, whether by choice or as a result of unresolved insomnia, you are also running the risk of creating systemic damage within your body that can have long term health consequences. Though people minimize the importance of sleep, research has shown that the body needs sleep to survive to an even greater extent than it needs nutritional sustenance. Lack of sleep can cause a number of health impacts, including:


  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Risk of stroke
  • Poor vision
  • Obesity
  • Higher risk of common cold and infections
  • Reduced efficacy of vaccines
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative brain diseases
  • Increased risk of drowsy driving and subsequent automobile accidents
  • Reduced fertility
  • Depression


One of the most remarkable examples of the difference that can be made by getting a good night of sleep lies in looking at the impact that adequate rest makes on the performance of world-class athletes. Experts in physical performance know that sleep is a process that is as essential to how an athlete does as are food, water and air. Sleep is when the cells restore themselves and repair the damage that has been done by each day’s activity, and particularly by the high level of stress that athletes put on their muscles, tendons and ligaments.


Every individual has highly specific sleep needs which are determined not only by the demands they put on their body, but also by their individual genetic makeup and inheritance. Emotional highs and lows, interactions with peers, and things that are in the immediate environment can also have an impact, and because of this, athletes need to make sure that they are tuned in to each of these factors in order to ensure that they are prepared for upcoming competition and that none of them works against them.


One of the most interesting aspects of the interplay between sleep and athletic performance is how an athlete’s lifestyle may come into play. If an athlete is very much in the social spotlight, whether at the high school or college level or even as a professional, it will have an impact on their diet, their exposure to light and temperature in the evening, even their sensitivity to noise. Add to this the additional disruption that sometimes comes from having to travel across time zones for competitions. All of these factors can have a direct impact on the quantity and quality of sleep that an athlete gets and can therefore make a difference in their level of achievement.


Studying the relationship between athletic performance and sleep is a relatively new area of interest, but it is fascinating both from the perspective of how sleep affects performance and how tremendous exertion impacts sleep.  Research has already established that cognitive performance and psychomotor performance are negatively affected by sleep deprivation , but newer research has shown that missing out on sleep also has a direct effect on metabolic and immune processes. Additionally, scientists have begun to identify which of the various sleep cycles has the greatest input on recovery. Knowing this will be invaluable in helping athletes achieve even greater results and helping them to train to allow them to break all new records and reach new heights. By the same token, those who choose to ignore the importance of sleep are liable to overtrain when they are at their most vulnerable, thus leading to an imbalance in their musculoskeletal system, their endocrine system, and their immune system. This can lead to increased chance for injury or illness.


Making sure that an athlete is in tune with their internal clock can help with both their training schedule and to understand how best to prepare for their competitive schedule, but the most important thing for an athlete to understand is that without the proper quality and quantity of sleep, they are not capable of performing at their very best – and likewise that if they are getting plenty of sleep they are giving themselves a remarkable boost and a competitive edge.



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