The 5 Stages of Sleep Deprivation

Pretty student girl in striped t-shirt trying to have some sleep, sitting in bedroom with pillow on her head, closing eyes, having tired painful look, irritated with annoying sound. Negative emotions

Sleep is necessary for survival, as it allows your body to repair and perform critical biological functions. Adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night. Workplace and lifestyle concerns, on the other hand, may occasionally interfere with your ability to sleep.

When you don’t get enough sleep or don’t get enough sleep, you’re experiencing sleep deprivation.

For most people, a brief period of sleep deprivation isn’t a cause for alarm. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can have major health consequences if it occurs frequently or for an extended period of time.

Sleep deprivation can damage the immune system, impair cognitive function, and cause inflammation. Sleep deprivation can increase your risk of developing a chronic illness.

In general, there are five stages of sleep deprivation. The stages are usually divided into 12-hour or 24-hour intervals. The longer you stay up, the worse the symptoms become.

Sleep deprivation timeline

There is no set schedule for sleep deprivation.

The amount of hours of sleep you’ve missed, on the other hand, determines the main stages. The symptoms of sleep deprivation tend to get worse with each stage.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body goes through the following processes:

Stage 1: After 24 hours

It’s not uncommon to go more than 24 hours without sleeping, and while it won’t hurt your health, you should expect to feel exhausted and “off.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 24 hours of sleep deprivation is comparable to 0.10 percent blood alcohol, which is higher than the legal driving limit.

The following are some of the signs and symptoms of staying awake for 24 hours:

  • 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

Your symptoms worsen if you don’t get enough sleep for 36 hours. You’ll be desperate to get some rest.

Microsleeps, or little bursts of sleep, may occur without your knowledge. On average, a microsleep lasts roughly 30 seconds.

It will be tough for different parts of your brain to communicate with one another. This has a major impact on your cognitive functioning, causing 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 likely to experience physical effects like:

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

Stage 3: After 48 hours

Extreme sleep deprivation is described as not sleeping for more than 48 hours, and staying awake at this point is considerably more challenging. You’re more likely to have microsleeps.

You may even experience hallucinations. When you see, hear, or feel something that isn’t there, this happens.

Other outcomes that may occur include:

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

Stage 4: Awake for 72 hours

After three days of sleep deprivation, your desire to sleep will deteriorate. Microsleeps may become more common and stay longer in the future.

Sleep deprivation has a significant impact on your perception. It’s possible that your hallucinations will become more sophisticated. You should also think about:

  • illusions
  • delusions
  • disordered thinking
  • depersonalization

Stage 5: Awake for 96 hours or more

After four days, your perception of reality will be severely altered. Your want to sleep will become too strong for you to bear.

When you don’t get enough sleep, you get sleep deprivation psychosis and become unable to perceive reality.

Sleep deprivation psychosis normally goes away when you get enough sleep.

How long does it take to recover

Sleeping more could aid your recovery from sleep deprivation.

Starting with going to bed sooner rather than later is a good place to start. It’s also a good idea to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to help your body get back into its usual cycle.

It might take days or weeks to recover from a sleep deprivation episode, and it takes four days to recover from only one hour of sleep loss.

The longer you have been awake, the longer it will take to get back on track.


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

  • Napping. If you’ve only missed a few hours of sleep, sleeping may help you feel better. If you sleep for more than 30 minutes, it may interfere with your ability to sleep at night.
  • Sleep hygiene is important. Healthy sleeping habits are essential for preventing and managing sleep loss.
  • Sleep aids that can be purchased over-the-counter. For the occasional sleepless night, over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids are ideal. Because they can build up a tolerance in you, it’s recommended to use them rarely.
  • Sleeping tablets on prescription. Your doctor may prescribe sleeping medications. However, they, like over-the-counter sleep medications, can lose their effectiveness with time.
  • Light therapy is a treatment that involves the use of light. Your doctor may recommend light treatment if you have severe insomnia. This treatment is intended to assist in the resetting of your body’s internal clock.
  • Breathing apparatus. If your sleep deprivation is caused by sleep apnea, you may be prescribed a device to assist you in breathing while you sleep. The most common choice is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

Lifestyle tips

One of the most effective methods to avoid sleep deprivation is to practise good sleep hygiene, including healthy lifestyle behaviours that promote restful sleep.

Expose yourself to natural light

Natural light allows your body’s synthesis of melatonin, the sleep hormone, to return to normal. The internal clock of your body will be regulated as a result of this.

Get regular physical activity.

You will feel less weary at night if you exercise often. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day.

Work out for at least 5 to 6 hours before going to bed. Exercising too late in the day may interfere with your capacity to get a good night’s sleep.

Later in the day, avoid coffee.

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

Before going to bed, stay away from alcohol.

Although alcohol is known to make you sleepy, it can also make your sleep less restful. Drinking too much alcohol before the night is not a good idea.

Before going to bed, stay away from electronic screens.

It’s easy to be sucked into watching a movie or scrolling through social media right before bed. The blue light from the screen, on the other hand, can stimulate your brain, and Melatonin synthesis is also reduced.

Avoid using electronics to avoid these side effects 30 to 1 hour before going to bed.

Create a calming bedtime routine

A soothing bedtime routine will help your body and mind prepare for sleep. This may include relaxing activities like:

  • taking a warm bath
  • stretching
  • meditating
  • reading

Have a pleasant sleep environment

You’re more likely to get quality sleep if your bedroom is comfortable and relaxing.

To create an ideal sleep environment:

  • 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.

Follow a consistent sleep schedule.

Wake up and go to bed simultaneously every night, even when you don’t have work. This will help your body maintain a regular schedule.

Avoid foods that disrupt sleep.

Some foods take a while to digest. The digestive process can keep you awake, so it’s best to avoid these foods just before bed.

This includes:

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

If you’re too hungry to sleep, choose a light snack like crackers or cereal.

Also, try to eat your last meal several hours before bedtime.

The bottom line

The first stage of sleep deprivation occurs within 24 hours of missed sleep. Most people can tolerate this level of sleep loss.

But as sleep deprivation continues, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay awake. It also impairs your cognitive function and perception of reality.

Fortunately, with proper sleep habits, it’s possible to recover or prevent sleep deprivation. If you still have trouble getting a good night’s rest, visit your doctor.


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