Focus on Fatigue

Focus on Fatigue, Issue 34: Sleep deprivation

By August 1, 2015 No Comments

Welcome to Focus on Fatigue,

We all experience sleep deprivation at one time or another. There are hundreds of reasons to be awake when your body is begging for sleep. Sometimes we choose to forego sleep in favour of social engagements or that really great TV show that we just couldn’t stop watching until we got to the end of the season. Other times life chooses for us. Insomnia, night shifts, babies that won’t sleep through the night, illness, work deadlines. They all conspire to keep us awake and active when all we really want to do is sink into blissful slumber.

Is it really such a big deal to miss out on sleep for a night? This month we will attempt to answer this question by looking at the short-term consequences of sleep deprivation.

The FRMS Team

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Views expressed in articles and links provided are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InterDynamics (except where directly attributed).

Feature Article

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep? The ‘next day’ consequences

If we don’t get enough sleep we feel tired the next day. This is something we all know. But does it stop there? What other short-term consequences are there to not getting enough sleep. Plenty of research has been done on this topic and the results have shown that there may be more consequences than you’d think. Here are a few of them:

Changes to genes

Just one full night of wakefulness can change the expression of certain genes within the skeletal muscles of the body. These genes regulate the circadian rhythm that tells us when our body wants sleep and when it wants to be awake. Such changes may result in metabolic disruptions that can, in the long-term,  increase the risk of obesity and type-2 diabetes.


The effect of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance changes depending on the task involved. Tired people tend to do worse on boring, monotonous tasks but can still do well on interesting tasks, or if they are motivated to do well. However, it seems that if the task being performed involves uncertain outcomes or changing feedback, that’s when performance declines once more. This is bad news for shift workers for whom uncertainty is a normal part of the job, such as in the emergency services.

I want ALL the doughnuts!

It’s well established that after a night of sleep deprivation people tend to consume more calories than usual the next day. This comes from an increased intake of fat (especially saturated fat), increased portion sizes, greater impulsivity in response to food cues and eating at times that you’d normally be sleeping. One study found that, after one night of total sleep deprivation, participants consumed a full 1000 calories more than they did when they were well-rested. Over time this could lead to unhealthy weight gain.

Friend or foe?

In everyday life, certain areas of our body and our brain work together to help us interpret the behaviour of others, including facial expressions. However, 24-hours of wakefulness significantly compromises this ability. We are more likely to perceive both neutral and friendly facial expressions as threatening. This can pose problems in situations where the accurate interpretation of social cues is crucial.

Do I look as tired as I feel?

When comparing photos of people when they are well-rested and when they have been awake for 31 hours, the differences between the two photos have proven easy to spot. When people are sleep deprived they are more likely to be perceived by others as having more hanging eyelids, redder eyes, more swollen eyes, darker circles under the eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles/fine lines, and more droopy corners of the mouth. So, the answer to the above question is yes, you probably do look just as tired as you feel.

I’m not drunk, just tired

A number of studies have compared people who are sleep deprived and people who have been drinking alcohol with regards to concentration of attention, reflexes, perceptiveness and accuracy of task performance. These studies have found that 17-19 hours of sleep deprivation is generally equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05% and 24 hours of sleep deprivation is generally equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10%. So, if you get behind the wheel of a car after being awake for too long, you may have similar response times as someone who is above the legal alcohol limit.

Please excuse my emotions

In the book Dirt Farmer Wisdom, JoJo Jensen said, “Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.” She may have been onto something there, as research has found that when our quality of sleep is poor we start to have trouble regulating negative emotions. Lack of sleep really does make us cranky.

With all these possible consequences stemming from a single 24-hr period without sleep, it’s clear we should all be striving to achieve adequate rest. For those times when getting enough sleep isn’t possible, it’s imperative that we take these effects into consideration are we plan activities or work that will be undertaken while we are sleep deprived.


  • Cedernaes, J., Osler, M. E., Voisin, S., Broman, J.-E., Vogel, H., Dickson, S. L., Zierath, J. R., Schioth, H. B. and Benedict, C. (2015) Acute sleep loss induces tissue-specific epigenetic and transcriptional alterations to circadian clock genes in men. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 13 July 2015. doi:
  • Fang, Z., Spaeth, A. M., Ma, N., Zhu, S., Hu, S., Goel, N., Detre, J. A., Dinges, D. F. and Rao, H. (2015) Altered salience network connectivity predicts macronutrient intake after sleep deprivation. Scientific Reports, 32 February, 2015, 5, 8215. doi: 10.1038/srep08215.
  • Goldstein-Piekarski, A. N., Greer, S. M., Saletin, J. M. and Walker, M. P. (2015) Sleep deprivation impairs the human central and peripheral nervous system discrimination of social threat. Journal of Neuroscience, 15 July 2015, 35(28), 10135-10145. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5254-14.2015.
  • Mauss, I. B., Troy, A. S. and LeBourgeois, M. K. (2013) Poorer sleep quality is associated with lower emotion-regulation ability in a laboratory paradigm. Cognition and Emotion, 27(3), 567-576.
  • Orzel-Gryglewska, J. (2010) Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 22(1), 95-114.
  • Sundelin, T., Lekander, M., Kecklund, G., Van Someren, E. J. W., Olsson, A. and Axelsson, J. (2013) Cues of fatigue: Effects of sleep deprivation on facial appearance. Sleep, 36(9), 1355-1360.
  • Whitney, P., Hinson, J. M., Jackson, M. L. and Van Dongen, H. P. A. (2015) Feedback blunting: Total sleep deprivation impairs decision making that requires updating based on feedback. Sleep, 38(5), 745-754.

In the News

Provided below are a selection of links from around the web on the issues associated with fatigue. We hope you find them useful and interesting.

Infographic: What Sleep Deprivation Does to Your Brain, in One Stunning Infographic

by Therese Fisher, Science.Mic (18 November 2014)

This infographic explains what happens to your brain, and what it means for you, when you don’t get enough sleep.

Article: Strategies to Offset Effects of Sleep Deprivation

by Rick Nauert, PsychCentral (5 June 2015)

Although insufficient sleep is often associated with increased caloric intake, new research suggests eating less late at night may help mitigate concentration and alertness deficits that accompany sleep deprivation.

Video: Sleep Deprivation and its Weird Effects on the Mind and Body

by Healthcare Triage, YouTube (5 June 2015)

Sleep is incredibly important. You have to do it. Not getting enough, or sleep deprivation, is a real, and bizarre thing. It’s also the topic of this week’s Healthcare Triage. (This video is 4:51mins long.)

In the Research

Article: Effects of one night of induced night-wakings versus sleep restriction on sustained attention and mood: A pilot study

Kahn, M., Fridenson, S., Lerer, R., Bar-Haim, Y. and Sadeh, A. (2014) Effects of one night of induced night-wakings versus sleep restriction on sustained attention and mood: A pilot study. Sleep Medicine, 15(7), 825-832.


OBJECTIVE: Despite their high prevalence in daily life, repeated night-wakings and their cognitive and emotional consequences have received less research attention compared to other types of sleep disturbances. Our aim was to experimentally compare the effects of one night of induced infrequent night-wakings (of ∼15 min, each requiring a purposeful response) and sleep restriction on sustained attention and mood in young adults.

METHODS:  In a within-between subjects counterbalanced design, 61 healthy adults (40 females; aged 20-29 years) underwent home assessments of sustained attention and self-reported mood at two times: after a normal (control) sleep night, and after a night of either sleep restriction (4h in bed) or induced night-wakings (four prolonged awakenings across 8h in bed). Sleep was monitored using actigraphy and sleep diaries. Sustained attention was assessed using an online continuous performance test (OCPT), and mood was reported online using the Profile of Mood States (POMS).

RESULTS: Actigraphic data revealed good compliance with experimental sleep requirements. Induced night-wakings and sleep restriction both resulted in more OCPT omission and commission errors, and in increased depression, fatigue and confusion levels and reduced vigor compared to the normal sleep night. Moreover, there were no significant differences between the consequences of induced awakenings and sleep restriction.

CONCLUSIONS: Our pilot study indicates that, similar to sleep restriction, one night of life-like repeated night-wakings negatively affects mood and sustained attention.

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