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Workaholics And Sleep Deprivation – How You’re Damaging Your Body


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January 12, 2023

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Work And Sleep Deprivation – Most of us will experience sleep deprivation at least once in our lives. The number of hours that a person needs for a refreshing, deep sleep depends on their genetics. Fully-functioning adults need between six to nine hours for a night’s sleep to optimize their productivity. Teenagers, on the other hand, need more time than that.

man working

Enough sleep is vital for the body to regenerate – this much is true. However, workaholics are highly likely to suffer from chronic sleep deprivation on a daily basis. What is sleep deprivation? Sleep deprivation and workaholism are directly linked to each other. While the effects of sleep deprivation don’t always reflect instantly, they are real and can be extremely dangerous both to mental and physical health.

women sleeping at work

What Does It Mean To Be A Workaholic?

Being a workaholic means you have an addiction to your work, and it is different from being hardworking. When you’re a workaholic, showing up and putting in the effort at your 9-5 job is just not enough. Even when you’re finally out of the office, you still tend to check your emails or bring your work home. Workaholics find it impossible to separate themselves from work.

Because they are more engrossed in satisfying their job, workaholics invest less in other aspects of their lives such as family, friends, hobbies, health, and well-being or romantic relationships. They always want to be in control and willingly volunteer to take on more responsibilities despite lack of sleep. According to a survey, workaholics are often in denial, making it harder for them to seek solutions to their problem.

Work And Sleep Deprivation – What Is Workaholism?

Workaholism is the constant need to engage in excessive work uncontrollably. People suffering from workaholism tend to have an increased focus on work and feel anxious when they are not working. When they encounter work-related problems, they are prone to be aggressive and take it out on other people. They feel a “reward dependence” for doing their jobs; the more they work despite poor sleep, the more addicted they become.

How does sleep deprivation work? A recent study on Japanese nurses connects excessive work to insufficient sleep and difficulty to fall asleep. The subjects obtained high scores using the Japanese version of the Workaholism Scale and, therefore, had higher risks for sleep-related breathing disorders, insomnia, prolonged sleep deprivation, and daytime sleepiness.

According to Dr. Charles Czeisler, a Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, people who run companies and organizations that encourage total sleep deprivation puts their employees’ at risk for medical issues. He points out that while these companies issue policies at work that prevent employee jeopardy, their demand to invest more in excessive work is extremely unhealthy to the body and can seriously impair the brain.

women sleeping at work 1

Work And Sleep Deprivation – What Is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is the condition or act of not getting enough sleep every night. The levels of sleep loss may vary between chronic and acute. It is not classified as one of the official sleep disorders yet, but it can damage the natural circadian rhythm of the body and produce adverse effects on the brain.

How does sleep deprivation work? People can either acquire it from obtaining too much sleep loss overuse of stimulant drugs or impose it on themselves through sleepless nights resulting in sleep debt. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 27% of university students are at risk of developing insomnia during their first year. That is because these people only sleep at night for less than six hours.

Aside from not getting a good night’s sleep, sleep deprivation can also root from mental health conditions, everyday stress of life, and workaholism.

women sleeping on couch

Work And Sleep Deprivation – Short-Term Effects Of Sleep Deprivation

A single sleep deprived night can cause significant health problems. Decision-making skills, slow-wave sleep, ability to focus on study, and long-term memory almost instantly degenerate if the body does not get enough sleep time at night. Although lack of REM sleep doesn’t always show physical symptoms, it can result in unseen yet damaging effects to the body.

Work And Sleep Deprivation – Mental Health

Developmental health issues

Decline or damage to mental health is one of the short-term effects of sleep deprivation. Because it messes up with the prefrontal cortex of the brain, it does not only result in extreme moods and acute anxiety but short-term memory and fatigue as well. It is also linked to depression, insomnia, hallucination, and paranoia.

Lose memory and focus

Sleep deprived people can lose focus and tend to become forgetful. They will fail to remember things as simple as mundane tasks or be at a loss for a verbal reaction. These attention lapses can result in loss of productive time, accidents, and even death. Sleep deprivation can also be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

Impair driving skills

Another one of the short-term effects of sleep deprivation is the impairment of driving skills. Hand-eye coordination is less likely to function correctly when a person forgoes to fall asleep at night. If you think coffee can fix the effects of sleep-related movement disorders, you’re gravely wrong. People who drive after pulling an all-nighter are more at risk of getting into a car accident than those who sleep more than six hours at night.

Physical Health

Weaken immune system

What is sleep deprivation? Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system which results in long-term effects of sleep deprivation. When your body does not get enough NREM sleep at night, there becomes a decrease in infection-fighting cytokines. That means that workaholics who have insomnia are more at risk of developing high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and heart disease.

Weight gain

Weight gain, although one of the short-term effects of sleep deprivation, can persist for a long time. How does sleep deprivation work? When your brain does not go through a healthy sleep-wake cycle every night, your hormone levels act up. Leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that control appetite, become confused. That is the reason for overeating at night.

Obstructive sleep apnea

If you are suffering from sleep deprivation, you are highly likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea and vice versa. OSA can make you wake up time and time again at night, and that can result in low quality sleep. It also makes your more vulnerable to the effects of other respiratory diseases such as flu, cold, or lung illness. If not adequately treated, it can become one of the long-term effects of sleep deprivation.


People who have sleep apnea and find it hard to fall asleep at night are more likely to develop one of the worst long-term effects of sleep deprivation – diabetes. When you subject yourself to sleep deprivation, you also decrease the production of glucose in your body. That, in turn, puts you at risk of acquiring type 2 Diabetes.

Is Sleep Deprivation Dangerous?

Short-term effects of sleep deprivation can result in brain malfunction and death. According to a study done by University of Chicago researcher Allan Rechtschaffen, total sleep deprivation for 32 days can kill you. Although conducted on rats, the study is backed up by enough scientific evidence that proves the same outcome can occur in humans. The longest known record of a human being awake is only 11 days.

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