Stress and Sleep Deprivation

Causes, Effects, Prevention and Management

Sleep deprivation can make stress levels soar.

Diane Diederich E+ / Getty Images

Are you getting enough sleep? If you’re like many people, you’re no stranger to sleep deprivation. According to a sleep poll of about 15,000 respondents on this site, around half are getting six or fewer hours of sleep per night—which can put them in a state of sleep deprivation.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

If you’re reading this and have gotten less sleep than you wish you did last night, you may also find yourself more stressed than you could be.

Studies on sleep show that those who get significantly less than the optimal 7.5 to 8.5 hours each night may be operating under a sleep deficit.

People regularly getting less than ideal amount of nightly sleep may be prone to the following and more:

  • Mild to moderate cognitive impairment
  • Motor skill impairment
  • Emotional irritability
  • Weight gain
  • Weakened immunity

Stress and Sleep Deprivation

More than just being tired throughout the day, not getting enough sleep can color your whole day and subtly, but pervasively, create more stress. Most of these factors can lead to greater stress:

  • Being less mentally sharp at work can jeopardize your performance and potentially cause problems on the job.
  • Getting sick more often puts you under pressure and additional stress.
  • Experiencing emotional reactivity can cause conflict with co-workers, family, and friends.
  • Being more prone to accidents obviously has its own set of dangers.

Combating Sleep Deprivation

If you find yourself wishing you’d gotten more sleep last night—and an honest look at your lifestyle reveals that lack of adequate sleep is a common occurrence,—some changes should probably be made. You may try one or more of the following:

  • Find more time for sleep. Often the cause of sleep deprivation is simple overscheduling. It’s difficult to find time for all the things we do these days, and sleep is often the first item on our schedule that gets sacrificed when we get too busy. You can find out about life plan strategies for finding a better balance.
  • Create sleep-promoting habits. Sometimes we have habits in our lifestyle that can sabotage our sleep without our realizing it. That’s why building better sleep habits into one’s schedule are so important and effective in combating sleep deprivation.
  • Cultivate a sleep-friendly state of mind. If you’ve found yourself losing sleep over a conflict or stressor you’re experiencing in life, you’re not alone—most of us have been there at one time or another. Try mindfulness meditation or learn how to clear your mind.
  • Manage stress in your life. Sometimes it’s just general stress that affects our sleep—our body’s stress response gets triggered and stays triggered, and our body’s systems get out of balance, resulting in sleep problems.

Manage Current Sleep Deprivation

The previous suggestions are all effective options for making the commitment to take care of yourself and making changes to ensure that you get enough sleep. Just getting enough sleep at night can impact your life and stress levels in many ways. However, if you need help feeling more alert right now, and want help in managing the effects of sleep deprivation immediately, the following five tips can help:

  1. Drink peppermint tea. You may be pleased to know that aromatherapy research shows that the scent of mint can actually help sharpen your cognitive abilities temporarily. Drinking peppermint tea is a great way to wake up your body and mind, and you can drink it caffeine-free from the afternoon on so the caffeine doesn’t interfere with your sleep tonight.
  2. Get some quick exercise. If you take a quick walk or find other ways to get quick bursts of exercise (or more, if you have time), you should get a burst of endorphins to lift your mood, and an infusion of energy to help get you through the day.
  3. Take a power nap. As long as you set an alarm and don’t sleep too long, a power nap can be a great solution to help you get through a long afternoon.
  4. Listen to music. Studies in music therapy have found that music can actually affect your physiology—listening to music of a quicker tempo can increase your heart rate and help you feel more energetic. Playing some upbeat music is a simple way to wake yourself up on your lunch break or whenever you can fit it in.
  5. Eat well. To combat the effects of lost sleep on your waistline, and to provide your body with the best fuel, be sure to feed yourself healthy meals and snacks today so you don’t find yourself involved in a sugar crash as well as a sleep deprivation rut.

These tips are no substitute for a good night’s sleep, but they’re shortcuts to better managing a sleep deficit. Try them, and resolve to get better sleep in the future, and you’ll be glad you did.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.