Polyphasic Sleep

Sleep Deprivation and Messages from the Graveyard Shift

By Alec Trembath

There are several things that our bodies need to keep working. Food, water, and air get much of the credit. However, something often overlooked as a basic necessity is sleep. For a monophasic sleeper, missing just one night of sleep can make you as impaired as if you were drinking alcohol. But what about the effects of chronic sleep deprivation? Suffering from a lack of sleep over a long period of time.

Causes of Sleep Deprivation

Most of the time, sleep deprivation is a voluntary thing. However, there are times when we experience it because of things that are completely out of our control.

Some common causes of sleep deprivation are:

  • School and Work Commitments: Studying and shift work can sometimes throw your sleeping schedule off.
  • Environmental Factors: Loud noises in your environment such as kids, neighbors, or a snoring bedmate.
  • Behavior Before Bed: Binge watching a favorite TV series, physical activity, caffeine intake or phone use.
    Remote being pointed at television

    Remote being pointed at television


  • Insomnia: Whether it be a chronic condition or acute stress.
  • Sleep Disorders: Sleep apnea or other disorders that cause you to lose sleep.
  • Acute Illness: Some illnesses can cause you to lose sleep. Coughing, fever, or flu are some examples.

Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

There are two types of sleep deprivation. Acute sleep deprivation, short term, occurs when you miss out on a full cycle of sleep in a day. The other type is chronic sleep, long term, deprivation in which you miss out on smaller periods of sleep over time.  The acute version’s effects are easy to recognize and remedy. Chronic sleep deprivation may not be as easy to identify.

The symptoms of acute sleep deprivation are:

  • Increased reaction time
  • Blurry vision
  • Impaired decision making
  • Short term memory loss
  • Impaired cognitive functions
  • Impaired motor functions
  • Microsleep

Chronic sleep deprivation can include all of the above and may play a part in developing disorders such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Chronic Headaches
  • Gastro-Intestinal problems
  • Mental disorders
  • Dementia
  • Hypermetabolism
  • Problems with thermoregulation
  • Chronic stress disorders

Battling Deprivation


The best thing you can do to treat sleep deprivation is adapting a sleeping pattern that fits your lifestyle. Some people with small children find it impossible to get quality sleep for 8 hours at a time. Focus on the quality of your sleep.  Four hours of good quality sleep will leave you feeling better than 8 hours of bad quality sleep.


For chronic sleep loss, you may have to see your doctor in order to find the underlying causes. Your doctor may give you options for a treatment plan.

One of the most common groups of people to experience sleep deprivation are people who work in the medical field. Some advice from people who work long overnight hours are:

  • Drink lots of water: While we all love caffeine, being dehydrated can make the effects of sleep deprivation worse.
  • Nap when you can: Whether it be on lunch breaks or in your car before you drive home, power naps can be effective tools in battling sleep deprivation.
  • Vitamins: Being sleep deprived can drain certain vitamins in your body. Take a multivitamin to help increase alertness.
  • Caffeine: The good stuff. We love it but don’t overdo it. Caffeine toxicity is a very uncomfortable thing.
  • Good Nutrition: Avoid foods high in fats. Instead choose fiber, simple carbohydrates, and proteins.
  • Turn off your phone: When you do finally get a chance to sleep, turn your phone off. This will limit distractions.

Drinking water and having a balanced diet alone can help you handle sleep deprivation better. Sometimes it is an unavoidable part of life. A man once went 11 days without sleep in a voluntary sleep study. Humans are capable of doing a lot on very little sleep, but when the time comes that the body can’t take anymore it may be a very sudden crash. So don’t push it!