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  Oct 12, 2018

Causes of Sleep Deprivation

There are various factors that may cause an individual to get insufficient sleep and lead to sleep deprivation, including environmental, habitual, medical and psychological causes. In many cases, the cause is multifactorial and several different factors play a role in the presentation of the condition.

Some of the most common causes of sleep deprivation are described in more detail below.

Voluntary Behavior

Behaviorally induced insufficiently sleep syndrome is a sleep disorder associated with chronic sleep deprivation caused by a voluntary pattern of restricted sleep. This usually occurs because individuals are unaware that their body has higher demands of sleep and they choose to remain awake to socialize or enjoy hobbies, thus restricting sleep time.

The use of stimulants can also have an impact on sleep. For example, some people may consume alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime, which can increase the difficulty to fall asleep.

Work or Study Commitments

Specific work environments are more likely disrupt natural sleep-wake cycles of the body and cause sleep deprivation. In particular, shift workers and people that frequently travel by air tend to have irregular sleep patterns and often do not get enough sleep.

Young children and adolescents require more sleep than adults, but study commitments and school schedules can make it difficult to get the required amount of sleep, sometimes leading to derivation. This is particularly common in adolescents, as the sleep-wake cycle shifts causing them to fall asleep later, but the early school schedule requires them to awaken before they get enough sleep.

Environment and Sleeping Habits

In some cases, sleep deprivation can occur as a result of stimuli in the environment where the patient sleeps. This may include extreme temperatures, a loud neighborhood, or sharing a bed with a partner that snores. New parents commonly experience sleep deprivation, as a result of needing to get up throughout the night to feed or care for infants or young children.

Additionally, the sleep habits can also have an effect on the quality and quantity of sleep. This may include the consumption of stimulants or the activities undertaken, such as physical exercise or screen time, close to bedtime.


Insomnia is a condition involving difficulty sleeping at night that affects up to a third of the adult population and is associated with sleep deprivation. It is characterized by symptoms of daytime sleepiness and difficulty with concentration, memory and performing well at school or work.

There are various causes of insomnia and, as a result, sleep deprivation such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances
  • Concurrent medical conditions
  • Stimulant medications
  • Psychiatric issues
  • Environmental factors

Some people also suffer from idiopathic insomnia and sleep deprivation, without a clear and identifiable cause.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a health condition involving the collapse of the upper airway while an individual sleeps, leading to reduced airflow to the lungs.

This often causes the individual to wake up at frequent intervals during the night as a reflex response to insufficient oxygen supply. Following this, it is common for patients to become sleep deprived and experience symptoms of sleepiness during the day.

Short-term Illness

Short-term illnesses such as a cold, influenza or tonsillitis can cause changes to breathing while sleeping, causing an individual to wake up frequently throughout the night. This can fragment the sleep and cause sleep deprivation.