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5 Stages of Sleep Deprivation

We all know the importance of getting at least eight hours of sleep. We all need sleep to survive. Sleep is necessary to allow our body to repair itself and continue to perform at an optimal level. It is generally estimated that adults require at least seven to nine hours of sleep every night. However, many times it happens that due to work or lifestyle factors, we are not able to sleep properly and for the required amount of time. When you do not get sufficient sleep or no sleep at all, it is known as sleep deprivation. While a short bout of sleep deprivation is not a cause of concern for most people, but prolonged or frequent sleep deprivation can lead to many serious health issues. Read on to learn how to identify the 5 stages of sleep deprivation and what happens to your body at each of these stages.

What is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep is necessary for the body to allow it to heal, repair itself, and perform essential biological functions. Adults need to get around seven to nine hours of sleep every night, but many times due to lifestyle factors and work, it is not possible to get the requisite amount of sleep.(1, 2, 3)

When you get less sleep than needed or no sleep at all, it is known as sleep deprivation. While for most people, it is not a matter of concern, but frequent or prolonged sleep deprivation might lead to serious health problems. A lack of sleep can increase inflammation in the body, lead to poor cognitive function, and also reduce immune function. And if the sleep deprivation continues for long, it is going to increase your risk for developing a chronic disease.(4, 5, 6)

Generally, there are five stages of sleep deprivation. These stages are divided into 12-hour or 24-hour increments, and the symptoms tend to worsen the longer you stay awake and remain sleep deprived.

5 Stages of Sleep Deprivation

The timeline for sleep deprivation varies from person to person and depends on several factors as well. However, the general stages of sleep deprivation are typically determined by how many hours of sleep a person has missed. The symptoms of sleep deprivation worsen with each stage. Here are the five stages of sleep deprivation and what happens to the body during each stage.

Stage 1 of Sleep Deprivation – After 24 Hours

In today’s hectic world, it is quite common to miss 24 hours of sleep. However, missing one day of sleep is unlikely to cause any major health issues, but you should expect to feel fatigued and ‘off.’ According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being sleep deprived for 24 hours is the same as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent. This level is higher than the limit to legally drive.(7, 8) Sleep deprivation of 24 hours is also going to impact your mood. Staying up for 24 hours can cause mood swings, anxiety and depression. A study found that sleep deprivation increases emotional instability in people due to the functional suppression of the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions.(9)

Staying awake for 24 hours can cause several symptoms, including:

Stage 2 of Sleep Deprivation – After 36 Hours

From 24 hours to 36 hours – when you miss 36 hours of sleep, the symptoms of sleep deprivation become more intense. You will now feel an overwhelming urge to sleep. In fact, you may start to have microsleeps without realizing you are doing it. A microsleep is a brief period of sleep that tends to last up to 30 seconds.(10, 11)

After 36 hours of sleep deprivation, different parts of the brain start to have a challenging time in communicating with each other. This has a severe effect on your cognitive performance. Impairment of your cognitive performance may cause symptoms like:(12)

  • Impaired memory
  • Behavioral changes
  • Difficulty learning and remembering new information
  • Difficulty processing social cues
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Increased errors
  • Slower reaction time

You are also likely to experience physical side effects like:

  • Increased inflammation
  • Increased appetite
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Impaired immune function

Stage 3 of Sleep Deprivation – After 48 Hours

Not sleeping for 48 hours is known as extreme sleep deprivation. At this stage, it becomes even more difficult to stay awake, and you are more likely to experience microsleeps. You may even start to hallucinate. This happens when you hear, see, or feel things that are not actually there.(13) Other possible symptoms of being sleep deprived for 48 hours may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depersonalization(14)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Increased irritability
  • Heightened stress levels

Stage 4 of Sleep Deprivation – After 72 Hours

After three days of not sleeping, the urge to sleep will become worse. You may even experience more frequent and longer microsleeps.(15) Prolonged sleep deprivation at this stage will dramatically begin to impair your perception, and your hallucinations may become more complex. You may also experience the following:(16)

Stage 5 of Sleep Deprivation – After 96 Hours or More

After four or more days of not sleeping, your perception of reality will be severely distorted, and the urge for sleep will become unbearable. When you have missed so much sleep that you are no longer able to interpret reality, the stage is called sleep deprivation psychosis.(17, 18)

Usually, sleep deprivation psychosis goes away once you get enough sleep.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Sleep Deprivation?

It is possible to recover from sleep deprivation. Catching up on your sleep is the only way to recover. You can start this process by attempting to go to bed early instead of choosing to sleep in late. It is also recommended that you try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. This will help your body get back on track and on a proper sleeping schedule.(19)

It can take several days or even weeks to recover from sleep deprivation. It is important to understand that even one hour of sleep loss takes four days to recover from. And the longer you remain awake, the longer it takes for the body to get back on track and make up for the lost sleep.

Treatments for Sleep Deprivation

There are several treatments for sleep deprivation. The best treatment depends on factors like how much sleep you have missed. Some of the possible treatments for sleep deprivation include:

  • Napping: If you are still in the early stages of sleep deprivation and have only lost a couple of hours of sleep, napping could help decrease the symptoms. However, avoid napping for more than 30 minutes at a time, as this may further disrupt your ability to fall asleep at night.
  • Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene: Having healthy sleep habits is necessary to get a good night’s sleep. Good sleep hygiene can prevent and also help treat sleep deprivation.
  • Over-The-Counter Sleeping Aids: You can easily get over-the-counter sleeping aids to help with the occasional sleepless night. Since it is possible to develop a tolerance to them, it is better to use these sparingly.
  • Prescription Sleeping Pills: If you have sleeping disorders or other conditions that stop you from getting a good night’s rest, your doctor will prescribe sleeping pills. However, just like over-the-counter sleeping aids, they tend to become less effective over time, and you develop a tolerance to them.(20)
  • Light Therapy: In cases of severe insomnia, doctors often recommend light therapy. Light therapy is a form of treatment for the sleep deprivation that helps reset the body’s internal clock.(21)
  • CPAP or Breathing Devices: If you have sleep deprivation due to sleep apnea, your doctor might prescribe a device that helps you breathe during sleep. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is one of the most commonly prescribed options.(22)


The first stage of sleep deprivation takes place within just 24 hours of not sleeping. However, most people are able to tolerate this level of sleep loss without any major problems. However, as sleep deprivation continues, it starts becoming more and more difficult to remain awake. It also begins to impair your cognitive function and your perception of reality. Fortunately, it is possible to recover and even prevent sleep deprivation by following proper sleeping habits. If you are experiencing trouble getting a good night’s sleep, it is a good idea to consult a doctor who can help you identify the underlying cause and also help you get back on track.


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  3. Siegel, J.M., 2003. Why we sleep. Scientific American, 289(5), pp.92-97.
  4. Diet and Health. 2022. What makes a good night’s sleep?. [online] Available at: <https://www.diet-health.info/en/100122/blog/6279/health/what-makes-a-good-nights-sleep?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-_rFzLKs9QIVM5pmAh2dtg4MEAAYASAAEgKQU_D_BwE> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
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  7. Cdc.gov. 2022. CDC – Drowsy Driving- Sleep and Sleep Disorders. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/drowsy_driving.html> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
  8. Global, K., 2022. What Happens to Your Body When You Stay Awake for 24 Hours? | Ecosa Blog. [online] Ecosa.com.au. Available at: <https://www.ecosa.com.au/blog/post/what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-stay-awake-for-24-hours.html> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
  9. Saghir, Z., Syeda, J.N., Muhammad, A.S. and Abdalla, T.H.B., 2018. The amygdala, sleep debt, sleep deprivation, and the emotion of anger: a possible connection?. Cureus, 10(7).
  10. Hemmeter, U., Bischof, R., Hatzinger, M., Seifritz, E. and Holsboer-Trachsler, E., 1998. Microsleep during partial sleep deprivation in depression. Biological psychiatry, 43(11), pp.829-839.
  11. Durmer, J.S. and Dinges, D.F., 2005, March. Neurocognitive consequences of sleep deprivation. In Seminars in neurology (Vol. 25, No. 01, pp. 117-129). Copyright© 2005 by Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc., 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA..
  12. Big Think. 2022. What Happens to Your Brain After 36 Hours Without Sleep?. [online] Available at: <https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/what-happens-to-your-brain-after-36-hours-without-sleep/> [Accessed 12 January 2022].
  13. Waters, F., Chiu, V., Atkinson, A. and Blom, J.D., 2018. Severe sleep deprivation causes hallucinations and a gradual progression toward psychosis with increasing time awake. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, p.303.
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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 17, 2022

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