Sleep deprivation refers to the state of not having had sufficient sleep. It is bound to happen to everyone at some point in their life, especially if you have young children, but more generally if you experience insomnia, or jet-lag, or do shift work, or just stay up too late every now and then. If you experience sleep deprivation, the best thing you can do is catch up as soon as you can, having a nap if possible, or just going to sleep early the next night. Sleep deprivation is no joke, it seriously affects every aspect of life. Some research shows that being sleep deprived is just as bad as being drunk: not only are you worse at everything you do (e.g. reaction times), but it has a similar effect to alcohol in that it makes you think you’re fine when in reality you’re slower than normal and liable to make mistakes. Hence, driving while sleep deprived is a bad idea. Sleep deprivation has other effects as well, such as making us generally more emotional. If you have ever snapped at someone or randomly burst into tears after a bad night of sleep, you’ll recognise this to be true. It also messes with our memory, so staying up all night to cram for an exam isn’t a great idea either. Sleep deprivation has detrimental effects on both mental and physical health. (Note to self: take a nap.)
Very long periods of sleep deprivation are even worse. Famous cases such as Randy Gardner (yeah, that really is his name), and Peter Tripp, both of whom stayed up for long periods of time (11 days and 8 days respectively), show that staying up for many hours results in a complete mental breakdown: paranoia, delusional thinking, memory loss, hallucination, to name a few. It’s not really known whether or not such long periods of sleep deprivation have long-term effects if sleep is recovered afterwards; in the case of Randy Gardner it’s recorded that he made a fully recovery and suffered no long-term effects, whereas for Peter Tripp his life was never the same again. But the potential for negative effects is so great that such experiments are no longer undertaken, and the Guinness World of Records will no longer allow submissions to beat Randy’s record because it is too dangerous.
Sleep deprivation is easy to overcome, as long as you don’t have insomnia and do get the opportunity to sleep. We are pretty efficient at catching up on our sleep, and we can even sleep extra in advance of knowing we are going to be sleep deprived, if we have that prior knowledge.