The 5 Stages of Sleep Deprivation And How To Overcome It

The 5 Stages of Sleep Deprivation And How To Overcome It

Sleep deprivation may impair cognitive performance, lead to inflammation, and compromise immunological function. Continued sleep deprivation may raise your risk of chronic illness.

 Medically reviewed by Dr K on 1st June 2022.

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  1. Timeline Of Sleep Deprivation
  2. Lifestyle Recommendations
  3. When Should You Visit A Doctor?

The 5 Stages of Sleep Deprivation And How To Overcome It

People need sleep in order to live. Sleep enables your body to heal itself and carry out vital biological functions. Adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. However, career and lifestyle issues might occasionally interfere with your ability to sleep.

Sleep deprivation occurs when you receive less sleep than you need or no sleep at all.

Most individuals are unfazed with a brief period of sleep deprivation. But, chronic or extended sleep deprivation may have major health consequences.

Sleep deprivation may impair cognitive performance, lead to inflammation, and compromise immunological function. Continued sleep deprivation may raise your risk of chronic illness.

There are five phases of sleep deprivation overall. Typically, the phases are separated into 12-hour or 24-hour chunks. The symptoms frequently worsen as you remain awake longer.

Source - Today's Parent

Timeline Of Sleep Deprivation

There is no set timetable for recovering from sleep deprivation.

The main phases, on the other hand, are decided by how many hours of sleep you’ve missed. Sleep deprivation symptoms tend to worsen with each stage.

Here’s what your body may do if you don’t get enough sleep:

Stage 1: After 24 hours 

It is usual to sleep less than 24 hours every day. It will also not create serious health issues, but you should prepare to feel fatigued and “off."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), missing 24 hours of sleep is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent. That is more than the legal driving limit.

Staying awake for 24 hours may result in future symptoms:

  • drowsiness
  • irritability
  • anger
  • increased risk of stress
  • decreased alertness
  • impaired concentration
  • brain fog
  • fatigue
  • tremors
  • reduced coordination 
  • increased risk of mistakes or accidents
  • food cravings
  • puffy eyes
  • dark undereye circles

Stage 2: After 36 hours

When you don’t get enough sleep for 36 hours, your symptoms worsen. You’ll have a strong desire to sleep.

Without realising it, you may begin to experience microsleeps or small bouts of sleep. Microsleeps can last up to 30 seconds.

Different portions of your brain will struggle to communicate with one another. This significantly decreases your cognitive functioning, resulting in symptoms such as:

  • impaired memory
  • difficulty learning new information 
  • behavioural changes
  • impaired decision-making
  • difficulty processing social cues
  • slow reaction time
  • increased errors

You’re also more prone to have bodily side effects such as:

  • increased appetite
  • increased inflammation
  • impaired immune function
  • extreme fatigue

Stage 3: After 48 hours

Sleep deprivation of 48 hours is referred to as excessive sleep deprivation. It’s much more difficult to remain awake at this stage. You’re more inclined to have microsleeps.

You could even start to have hallucinations. This happens when you see, hear, or feel things that aren’t there.

Other possible effects include: 

  • depersonalization
  • anxiety
  • heightened stress levels
  • increased irritability 
  • extreme fatigue

Stage 4: Awake for 72 hours

Your desire to sleep will intensify after three days of sleep deprivation. You may have more frequent and longer microsleeps.

Sleep deprivation will damage your perception greatly. It’s possible that your hallucinations may get more intricate. You might also have:

  • illusions
  • delusions
  • disordered thinking
  • depersonalization 

Stage 5: Awake for 96 hours or more

Your view of reality will be significantly skewed after 4 days. Your desire to sleep will likewise be intolerable.

Sleep deprivation psychosis occurs when you don’t get enough sleep and are unable to comprehend reality.

Sleep deprivation psychosis usually goes away as you get adequate sleep.

How long does it take to recover

Sleeping more hours allows you to recuperate from sleep deprivation.

You may begin by going to bed earlier rather than later. It’s also a good idea to obtain 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. This will empower your body in getting back on track.

It might take days or weeks to recover from a sleep deprivation episode. Just one hour of sleep deprivation necessitates a four-day recovery period.

The longer you’ve been awake, the more difficult it will be to get back on track.


The best treatment depends on how much sleep you’ve missed. Possible options include:

  • Napping. If you’ve simply missed a few hours of sleep, napping may help you feel better. Napping for more than 30 minutes may interfere with your capacity to sleep at night.
  • Good sleep habits. Healthy sleep habits are essential for avoiding and managing sleep loss.
  • Over-the-counter sleep aids. For the odd restless night, over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids are perfect. Because they may develop tolerance, it’s recommended to use them rarely.
  • Prescription sleeping pills. Sleeping medications may be prescribed by your doctor. However, they, like over-the-counter sleeping pills, may lose effectiveness with time.
  • Light therapy. If you suffer from severe insomnia, your doctor may advise you to try the light treatment. This therapy is intended to assist in resetting your body’s internal clock.
  • Breathing device. If your sleep deprivation is caused by sleep apnea, you may be given a device to support you in breathing while sleeping. The most frequent choice is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

Lifestyle Recommendations

One of the most effective means of preventing sleep deprivation is to practise good sleep hygiene. This involves adopting healthy living practices that promote restful sleep.

Allow yourself to be exposed to natural light

Natural light exposure allows your body’s synthesis of melatonin, the sleep hormone, to balance. This will help to keep your body’s internal clock in check.

Engage in frequently physical exercise

Exercise on a regular basis can help you sleep better at night. Aim for at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise every day. Try to exercise at least 5 to 6 hours before going to bed. Exercising too late in the day may affect one ’s ability to sleep.

Caffeine should be avoided later in the day

If you consume caffeinated beverages, finish your last cup before noon. Caffeine might take up to 6 hours to wear off.

Avoid alcohol before going to bed

Although alcohol is known to induce sleep, it may also impair the quality of your sleep. Avoid consuming too much alcohol before going to bed.

Avoid using electronic devices before bed

It might be tempting to watch a movie or check social media just before going to bed. The blue light from the screen, on the other hand, may stimulate your brain. It also suppresses the production of melatonin.

Stop using electronics to avoid these impacts  30 minutes to an hour before going to bed.

Make a soothing nighttime regimen

A relaxing evening ritual can benefit your body and mind in preparing for sleep. This might involve acts such as:

  • taking a warm bath
  • stretching
  • meditating
  • reading

Prepare a comfortable sleeping environment

If your bedroom is pleasant and soothing, you’re more likely to obtain a good night’s sleep.

To develop an ideal sleeping environment, follow these steps:

  • Turn off electronics, including TVs and smartphones.
  • Keep the bedroom cool (between 60 to 67°F, or 16 to 19°C).
  • Use a comfortable mattress and pillow. 
  • Cover up loud sounds with a fan, humidifier, or white noise machine.

Maintain a steady sleep routine

Even if you don’t have work, you should get up and go to bed at the same time every night. This will help your body in maintaining a consistent routine.

Avoid meals that cause sleep disruption

Some foods are difficult to digest. Because the digestion process might keep you awake, it’s best to avoid eating these meals just before bed.

This includes:

  • heavy meals
  • fatty or fried foods
  • spicy meals
  • acidic foods
  • carbonated drinks

If you can’t sleep because you’re too hungry, eat a light snack like crackers or cereal.

In addition, strive to have your final meal many hours before going to bed.

When Should You Visit A Doctor?

It’s common to have a restless night now and again. However, if you are still having difficulty sleeping after practising proper sleep hygiene, see a doctor.

Seek medical attention if you:

  • have difficulty falling asleep
  • feel tired after getting enough sleep
  • wake up several times at night
  • experience microsleeps
  • experience frequent fatigue
  • need to take daily naps


The Bottom Line

Within 24 hours of missing sleep, the first stage of sleep deprivation develops. Most individuals can cope with this amount of sleep deprivation.

However, as sleep loss worsens, staying up becomes more challenging. It also inhibits your cognitive function and reality perception.

Fortunately, sleep loss may be cured or avoided with appropriate sleep practices. If you’re still having difficulties sleeping, make an appointment with your doctor.


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