Eachnight may earn commissions for products you purchase through our links. Our articles and reviews include affiliate links and advertisements, including amerisleep advertising. Learn more Updated August 18, 2021Over 164 million Americans struggle to find sleep each year. On average, an adult should get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep, but circumstances may not allow it. Factors like health conditions and job occupations may be outside of your control when it comes to sleep. However, if you’re staying up late studying or socializing, that sleep loss can catch up over time.Sleep deprivation affects us both physically and mentally and may influence our decisions. We’re more likely to make decisions with negative impacts when running on less than 7 hours of sleep.What is Sleep Deprivation?Going to bed late so we can do other things may seem harmless, but those lost hours add up, and soon you start to feel the long-term effects of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation happens when you don’t get enough sleep. It could be from going to bed late and waking early or frequently waking at night. You feel moody and struggle to concentrate.Poor sleep has long-term effects and is linked to health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Sleep is critical to performance and is one of the essential keys to a healthier lifestyle.Less Sleep, Poor DecisionsThe average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to function fully. During sleep, the body heals and the brain stores information and memory from that day. You need sleep to renew yourself after the day’s activities and to prepare for the next day.Cutting out even an hour of sleep each night can affect you, especially your decision-making abilities. It’s not just about choosing right from wrong—it’s also about weighing risks and rewards, retaining memories, and food choices.Risk vs. RewardStudies show that sleep loss is tied to making risky decisions. You become more impulsive and are less likely to consider loss, only focusing on the reward. How does this happen?In 2001, the SLEEP journal published a study on how sleep deprivation elevates the expectation of gains. Sleep-deprived participants were more likely to make risk-taking decisions if the payoff was high. The anticipation of reward stems from an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. While the number of high-risk decisions didn’t increase, the expectation for a higher reward did.This type of phenomenon is common in gambling. It can also be a problem in everyday life. For example, if you’re an entrepreneur or own a company, you may make risky decisions hoping for a higher reward. Further, less sleep also means your brain is less aware of loss—you could make a high-risk decision, only focused on the reward and not fully considering the consequences if you lose.Poor MemorySleep deprivation affects the brain’s ability to learn and recall information. During REM sleep, the brain is active, processing information and storing memories from the previous day.Less sleep disrupts this process because the body spends less time in this REM cycle. The following day you may have trouble recalling what was said in a business meeting or what assignments you have. Sleep deprivation also makes it harder for the brain to absorb new information, as the brain is working hard to focus and take in information.Not only is your ability to remember affected but your motor skills suffer too. The brain’s ability to store memory also includes motor skills and physical reflexes. This is another reason why a high percentage of car accidents occur due to sleep deprivation. Sleep-deprived drivers have a slower reaction time. Poor motor skills can also be problematic if you play sports with less sleep—you may struggle to execute a specific move or maneuver, preventing you from performing at your best.Weight GainLess sleep triggers changes in hormone levels that regulate your hunger. Leptin lets the body know when it’s full, while ghrelin signals hunger. Little sleep produces less leptin and more ghrelin—you’ll feel hungrier, but your body will be slower to react when you’re full. You end up eating more than you need to.Sleep deprivation increases stress. Less sleep triggers an increase in cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone responsible for holding onto energy (sugars and fat) to be used later. More stress means your body retains more fat.Your insulin levels are also affected. With a higher production of cortisol, your body is less sensitive to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that changes food into energy. Your body has a harder time processing fats from the bloodstream when it becomes less sensitive to insulin. These fats end up stored in the body, leading to weight gain.Less sleep also affects your diet. As previously mentioned, sleep may influence your decisions. Studies show that less sleep leads to consuming more junk food. You’re more likely to have intense cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods, like french fries and ice cream. You’re also more likely to give in to those cravings.To make matters worse, eating these foods increases the chance that you’ll indulge in the same foods again on the same day.How Much Sleep Do You Need?Without enough sleep, we aren’t as productive and are at increased risk for making bad decisions. If you’re not sure how much sleep you need, take a look at our handy sleep calculator—it determines the amount of sleep you need based on your age and the time you need to wake up. Below is the recommended amount of sleep based on age:Newborns (0 to 3 months)Between 14 to 17 hours of sleepInfants (4 to 11 months)Between 12 to 15 hours of sleepToddlers (1 to 2 years)11 to 14 hours of sleepPreschoolers (3 to 5 years)10 to 13 hours of sleepChildren (6 to 13 years)9 to 11 hours of sleepTeenagers (14 to 17 years)8 to 10 hours of sleepAdults (18 to 64 years)7 to 9 hours of sleepOlder Adults (65+ years)7 to 8 hours of sleepBabies, children, and teenagers need more sleep to help them grow mentally and physically. Plenty of sleep in those early years is critical for development. Once we become adults, we generally need less sleep.When we hit 65, our bodies may have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. This is because we spend less time in REM sleep. However, we can still make up this time by reaping the benefits of napping during the day.Just make sure to nap before 3 p.m., and for no longer than 30 minutes. Dr. Ehrnstrom, sleep expert and co-author of End the Insomnia Struggle notes, “Though our sleep does change as we age, we also see a notable impact on sleep due to changes in schedules as people work less, retire, and change activities. It is important to create a consistent structure regarding exercise, meals, and sleep at this pivotal time.”How to Achieve Better SleepTo avoid the effects of poor sleep, practice good sleep hygiene. Healthy sleep habits may help you get the rest you need to be your best self. Sticking to a sleep schedule, taking a warm shower, and avoiding electronic devices before bedtime may improve your sleep quality. Dr. Ehrnstrom recommends, “Think of sleep hygiene as promoting healthy sleep patterns over time, rather than as a tool to control sleep at any given time. There are natural fluctuations in our sleep day to day and sleep hygiene promotes sleep on a larger scale.”Establish a Sleep ScheduleSetting a bedtime may seem childish, but in reality, it works. A set sleep and wake time makes it easier to fall asleep at night and wake in the morning. Your body will adjust to the rhythm, so when it’s time for bed, you may automatically start to feel sleepy. It’s just as important to maintain this schedule on the weekends too. Bodies respond positively to these consistent rhythms.It may be tempting to sleep in for a few hours, but this can throw off your body. Plus, if you’re getting the right amount of sleep, you likely do not need that extra time.Avoid Heavy MealsThere may be some truth to “eat dinner like a pauper” philosophy. Avoiding heavy meals and snacking may improve your sleep. Heavy meals take longer to digest. When it’s time for bed, your body may be focused on digesting, making it harder to fall asleep.The best time to eat dinner is between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., allowing your body time to digest your meal.Take a Warm Bath or ShowerTaking a warm bath or shower before bed may improve your sleep. After a bath or shower, your body gives off more heat, cooling it down. As a way to prepare for sleep, body temperature naturally drops, making this an ideal time to fall asleep.Keep the Bedroom DarkYour body’s sleep-wake cycle is influenced by melatonin. Your body is continually producing melatonin. However, production is lowest during the day and strongest at night. That’s because the more light you’re exposed to, the less melatonin there is in your body.Keeping your bedroom dark induces sleep. Any light exposure could reduce melatonin levels and make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Alternatively, if you can’t make your bedroom dark, a sleep mask can be effective.Avoid Electronic DevicesWe’ve all been there: you climb into bed and start scrolling through your phone, checking on messages, and browsing social media sites. This may come across as a relaxing activity to help you sleep, but it’s the exact opposite.When you’re using any electronic device (TV, tablet, computer, or smartphone), you’re exposing yourself to blue light. Blue light tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, halting the melatonin production and making it harder to fall asleep. Try to avoid any electronic devices for an hour or two before bed. If you need to scroll through your phone, use your night settings or the apps that filter out blue light.Other Things to ConsiderWhat are the signs of sleep deprivation?One obvious symptom of sleep deprivation is daytime drowsiness. Daytime drowsiness reduces your focus and makes it harder to concentrate. Production suffers in the workforce from the effects of sleep loss. Other symptoms include moodiness, depression, forgetfulness, and cravings for junk food.If you suffer from sleep deprivation, establishing healthy sleep hygiene can help. Start by setting a bedtime. It may seem silly for adults, but having a set sleep and wake time helps our bodies fall asleep and stay asleep.What is a sleep disorder?A sleep disorder refers to any condition that negatively affects how you sleep. Between 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder. Sleep disorders usually lead to sleep deprivation, which may worsen pre-existing health conditions if left untreated.Some sleep disorders include:InsomniaInsomnia is the most common sleep disorder. Insomnia is when you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Insomnia could stem from stress, depression, anxiety, or a side effect from certain medications. Insomnia can be addressed with interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).Sleep ApneaSleep apnea occurs when gravity causes either soft tissue at the back of the throat to collapse or the tongue to fall back, obstructing airways. When your brain realizes the lack of air, it’ll send out a pulse, causing you to wake up and force you to breathe. These small intervals last up to 10 seconds, which could happen 30 times a night. These intervals are very short; you may not even realize you’re constantly waking up at night. Apnea can be a serious medical concern so please consult your medical providers if you think you may have this problem. Apnea can be treated with breathing machines (e.g., CPAP) and/or orthodontic appliances.NarcolepsyNarcolepsy is when you feel intense sleepiness during the day and may randomly fall asleep. Researchers don’t know the exact cause of narcolepsy, and there’s no known cure. Narcolepsy can be treated with medications, like stimulants, to help boost the central nervous system and help patients stay awake during the day. Sufferers of narcolepsy can also make certain lifestyle decisions to improve sleep, including sticking to a bedtime schedule and exercising regularly.Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)People with restless legs syndrome experience an uncomfortable sensation, urging them to move their legs. This sensation disrupts sleep and may cause daytime drowsiness. RLS occurs mostly at night, when the body is slowing down to prepare for sleep, or during sleep.Can you catch up on sleep?Running on less than 7 hours of sleep on weekdays and sleeping in on the weekends may seem like a good way of catching up on sleep. But, studies show that it’s impossible to make up for lost sleep all at once. Sleeping longer and sleeping at different times throws off your normal daily rhythm of sleep and does more harm than good.Following good sleep habits, like going to bed early and avoiding your phone an hour before bedtime, ensures you get the sleep you need to perform at your best. Over time, lack of sleep starts to affect your body in negative ways, like increased insulin levels and higher cortisol production. Consistent patterns create a healthy relationship with sleep that allows you to have consistent and restorative sleep.Does napping make up for lost sleep?Napping for brief periods may boost your energy levels and improve your focus. Just make sure you’re smart about how you nap. Don’t sleep longer than 30 minutes—you want to avoid slipping into the REM cycle, which can cause sleep inertia. Also, avoid napping after 3 p.m. This could make it harder for you to fall asleep at night. Dr. Ehrnstrom reminds us that “Napping can help with short term energy but is not an effective way to catch up on a more chronic sleep debt.” The most effective method of catching up on sleep is to establish consistent wake and sleep cycles.”Does lack of sleep impair judgment?Yes, consistent lack of sleep can lead to impaired judgment and poor decision-making skills. Studies have shown sleep loss over an extended period of time can cause decreased cognitive performance, leading to the inability to make sound judgments.ConclusionPutting off sleep can hurt our decision making. We’re more likely to take higher risks, struggle to recall information, and give into junk food cravings. The best way to tackle this problem is to get the recommended amount of sleep each night, including weekends. We want to make sure we give ourselves an adequate opportunity for sleep, which is 7-9 hours per night. We also want to establish healthy sleep habits, including following a sleep schedule and avoiding light exposure to provide a good night’s sleep and boost your health.About the author Jasmin LeeJasmin Lee is dedicated to helping others get better sleep—when she’s not napping, you can often find her researching the latest in bedding and mattress technology. Her fascination with sleep fuels her drive to connect readers with the resources they need to improve their night’s rest. Find more articles by Jasmin Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.