Sleep deprivation is more than just a couple of dark circles under your eyes and an unnervingly short temper, it’s an insidious disorder that has an effect on both your mental and physical health.

When you’re pulling that all-nighter, whether in the office or the pub, it’s vital to be aware of the effects of even one sleepless night.

Sleep deprivation on a chronic scale can pose long-term health risks and has been linked with increasing the risk of strokes, cancer and obesity amongst other diseases.

Here we explore the huge and multiple physical and mental health risks behind sleep deprivation. If you think you’re suffering from sleep deprivation we strongly recommend you contact a doctor for medical support.

Mental health

Depression and anxiety

Think how you feel after just one sleepless night. Tired? Irritable? Moody? Now just consider the effects of chronic sleep deprivation over a prolonged period of time.

It’s little wonder sleep deprivation has been linked with both depression and anxiety.

A survey conducted among sufferers of anxiety or depression found that the majority of those surveyed endured less than 6 hours of sleep a night.

Memory problems

Ever found yourself making more mistakes after a sleepless night? This is because exhaustion effects your memory and knowledge retention, leading to accidents in the workplace because you’re not focused.

In short, you’re not at peak mental performance if you’re not getting your 40 winks.

Physical damage to the brain

A recent study by SLEEP found that a sleepless night can actually lead to loss of brain tissue.

It’s worth noting this was a small study of just 15 men, so any results should be treated with caution.

Physical health

Higher risk of obesity

Notice those hunger-pangs you get after a sleepless night? Well according to a number of studies it’s because there’s a direct link between sleep deprivation and appetite.

The ‘hunger hormones’, ghrelin and leptin, have been found to change in people who were getting less than 6 hours of night, which can lead to a spike in appetite and, subsequently, the risk of further weight gain.

More vulnerable to diseases

Studies have shown that the risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers spike in those suffering from sleep deprivation. One study in particular found a link between sleep deprivation and aggressive breast cancer.

And because your immune system is weakened, you’re also more vulnerable to catching a cold and other short term illnesses.

Higher risk of having a stroke

More research from SLEEP found that lack of sleep – which is 6 hours or less a night - can increase the risk of having a stroke four-fold in middle and older-aged people.

How long can you go without sleep?

As you can see, even one sleepless night can have an immediate effect on your health. Multiple sleepless nights can be life-threatening.

But how long can a human physically go without sleep? Well it’s certainly not something we advise you try and it varies from person to person.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest someone has gone without sleep is Randy Gardner in 1965 who clocked 264 hours, which is about 11 days.

The 17-year old student was doing it as an experiment for a science fair and set a world record in the process.

What did Randy Gardner experience as he conducted this risky experiment? Well he showed negative side-effects pretty much immediately and got worse as the days wore-on.

Day 2: Randy started showing signs of diminished cognitive ability, such as struggling to identify objects by touch and repeating simple tongue twisters.

Day 3: A distinct change in demeanour, with Randy becoming moody and uncoordinated.

Day 5: Randy starts hallucinating as his mental state deteriorates.

Day 6-10: Inability to form short-term memories, signs of paranoia and trouble concentrating.

Day 11: By the final day Randy was expressionless, slurring his speech and barely responsive. His attention span was nearly non-existent and he couldn’t complete the simplest of tasks, one of which being a mathematical challenge to count back from 100 in multiples of 5. Randy only reached 65 before stopping and stating he couldn’t remember what he was doing.

Thankfully the Guinness Book of World Records has stopped listing voluntary sleep deprivation as a recognised level due to the health risk involved.

Have you had any experiences with sleep deprivation? If so, leave a comment below to let us know how you beat it.