Can Sleep Deprivation Change Your Personality?

No one knows exactly why we are designed to sleep, but just about everyone knows what happens when we don't.

If you are one of the estimated 50 to 70 million Americans who suffer from chronic sleep loss, you are probably feeling the consequences right now. Sleep—and a lack of it—has a profound effect on your brain. The state of your brain, in turn, has an overwhelming effect on how you think and act. When you don't get enough sleep, it becomes difficult to focus your attention and manage your emotions. You lose perspective. It is as if you become a different person than who you are when you are well rested.

When children are sleep deprived, they often "act out" with frenzied activity, irritability, lack of focus, and temper tantrums. They disengage, won't look you in the eye and seemingly refuse to listen. To some degree, sleep-deprived adults may be able to control their feelings and behavior but, eventually, deprivation takes its toll and emotions that affect personality become more difficult to manage.

If you are not getting enough sleep, you may feel short-tempered, easily frustrated, and overwhelmed by normal activities. Certainly you are more prone to accidents, mistakes, and misjudgments.  You may also feel physically sluggish and even ill. You may become more argumentative, less flexible, and more easily irritated by other people's behavior.

Different parts of your brain and body are rejuvenated throughout each stage of sleep. Short-term sleep deprivation is unlikely to result in any major or permanent problems, because your brain has the ability to adapt to a small amount of sleep loss. But more than one or two nights of sleep deprivation can result in severe mental and physical disturbances.

Researchers who study sleep deprivation at Macalester College in Minnesota report that long-term sleep deprivation results in extreme mood and behavior changes during the period of deprivation. Some of these changes include an inability to carry on normal conversations, difficulty answering questions, rambling speech, and more serious social symptoms such as paranoid responses, grandiose expressions, and imagined persecution. One study, published in the Academy of Management Journal, found that adults who are sleep deprived not only lose some degree of self-control over their emotions but may also become more hostile.

Although you never completely make up for lost sleep, you can recover from the effects of sleep deprivation. If you suffer from chronic insomnia, it is important to seek help from your health care provider before it affects your relationships with friends, family members, and associates at work.



Christian, MS and Ellis, APJ; "Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Workplace Deviation." The Academy of Management Journal Oct 2011 54(5). Web 19 Aug 11

Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. "Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. 2006. Web. 19 Aug 11

Smith, M, et al; "Welcome to Sleep Deprivation" Macalester College. Web 19 Aug 11