top of page

What are the symptoms of a lack of sleep and how can they affect burnout?

Hey sleep enthusiast, are you wondering what the impact of those on and off, patchy sleep patterns might be? Maybe you just want to know about what sleep deprivation symptoms looks like when in full effect, so you’ll know it when you see it? Or you might simply be curious because you value looking after your well-being. Although you’d much rather do all the things than try and achieve some mythical-sounding eight hours sleep.

As a sleep coach and former long-term patchy sleeper, I am passionate about sharing knowledge that can help people who struggle with sleep to make choices that bring them more peace and ease in living with unpredictable sleep.

Whilst insomnia is well-recognised and understood (and just so you know, it also won’t kill you), the topic of sleep deprivation is an interesting one as most people who are living with it don’t realise they have it. The impact of this is that people may often not have the awareness of how they could best manage their lack of sleep symptoms and energy.

So, how might you know if you are living with sleep deprivation? Some symptoms to look out for include:

Changes in your mood and how you respond

Experiencing more anxiousness or low moods can come with sleep deprivation, as well as different reactions, for example: snapping at people easily or noticing you may have more of a sense of being wound up in your day.

Less capacity for concentration

Less focus can impact on performance in terms of work or studies. It can also slow reaction times, making activities like operating heavy machinery or driving a car more of a risk.

Planning, organisation and judgement skills may be off

Sleep deprivation can impair cognitive abilities that are based in the prefrontal cortex part of the brain, leading to reduced attention, decreased working memory, limited decision-making and impaired judgement.

Feeling disconnected from reality, or a distorted reality

Experiences of paranoia, disorientation, delirium or even forms of hallucination can take place when sleep deprived.

Physical complaints

You may notice effects in the body such as aches and pains, an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal issues, along with general discomfort.

Feeling cooler

Sleep deprivation may also cause your overall body temperature to decrease.

You’re more tempted to reach for the snacks

Studies have proven that when sleep deprived there’s a hormonal impact which increases hunger and cravings for treats.

Reading the points above, you may wonder if you suffer from sleep deprivation from time to time, or if it could be a state that you have been living with on a longer-term basis. It can be tricky to get clarity on because the symptoms above can be subtle, as well as linked to other causes. For example, you might have been dealing with increased stress levels, changes in dietary habits, underlying medical conditions or disruptions in your living or workspace.

What if you can’t tell whether you are sleep deprived?

If the symptoms sound familiar, but you’re still not sure whether you may be experiencing sleep deprivation or just getting by in a time of change, I invite you to try out the centring exercise below. It’s an awareness practice that I use with clients in sleep coaching sessions to help them connect to themselves.

It may feel unfamiliar at first, but by taking some time in self-connection, you can start to see what may be possible to pick up in terms of messages from the body. They may start out being quite subtle, but once you build the practice, this can be a helpful way to check in with yourself and assess whether you may be experiencing sleep deprivation.

How the glorification of ‘hustle culture’ impacts on a lack of sleep

Another factor that can influence normalising living with sleep deprivation is the ideology, or belief system, of ‘hustle culture’. It may be best brought to life by high-profile leaders who glorify extreme work ethics, such as Elon Musk sending a company-wide midnight email to twitter employees after taking over the business informing them that if they wish to keep their jobs they will need to commit to an ‘extremely hardcore’ new operation. Meaning ‘working long hours at high intensity’ where ‘only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade’. He also tweeted how he planned to sleep on the Twitter floor until the organisation was ‘fixed’. Cosy!

Another hustle culture icon is Melissa Meyer, former Google leader and CEO of Yahoo who has been vocal about her commitment to working 130-hour weeks in interviews:

"The other piece that gets overlooked in the Google story is the value of hard work. When reporters write about Google, they write about it as if it was inevitable. The actual experience was more like, 'Could you work 130 hours in a week?'
"The answer is yes, if you're strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom. The nap rooms at Google were there because it was safer to stay in the office than walk to your car at 3 a.m. For my first five years, I did at least one all-nighter a week, except when I was on vacation — and the vacations were few and far between."

I don’t care how comfortable the nap rooms at Google or Elon’s floor at Twitter might be, what these extreme examples show is ‘performative workaholism’, as it’s increasingly being described. It has been celebrated as a way of showing motivation and dedication and like any addiction, it comes at a sacrifice of personal well-being. These examples symbolise a work ethic that has been prevalent for some time, trickling down to all levels of companies.

Sleep deprivation as a warning sign for burnout

With employee stress levels reaching an all-time high globally, burnout is a very real risk when self-care gets neglected. In fact, a study confirmed that insufficient sleep, specifically getting less than six hours per night, was identified as a main risk factor for subsequent clinical burnout. It also highlighted the influence of work demands and preoccupation with work during leisure time on burnout development.

A lack of sleep can form a vicious circle when it comes to looking after overall health, as shown in a recent YouGov survey in the UK. 35% of people said they have not implemented the healthy changes they would like to make to their lifestyles due to feeling too tired.

Moving away from hustle culture and into a more balanced lifestyle

Fortunately, awareness is increasing about the need to look after both well-being and your career by intentionally taking steps to unlearn internalised hustle culture.

The shift of many people adjusting to working from home during the pandemic provided an opportunity for a wave of alternative approaches to the girl bossing, 5am clubs that hustle culture championed. After that, approaches went to the other end of the spectrum with quiet quitting and lazy girl jobs representing doing the bare minimum at work. A trend that followed is the soft life. Dr Evelyn Okpanachi wrote The Emotionally Empowered Woman and is quoted in The Independent as saying how the soft life makes sense:

“Collectively, we are still tired. We have had the Covid era, austerity and more, and we simply want to live and breathe a little. This is why we are leaning towards it more right now. Collectively, we are breathing a sigh of relief,” said Okpanachi.
“Most people associate the soft life with booking last-minute flights, mojitos on the beach, dining at nice restaurants and all of the externalities. It is in part, but it a lot deeper than that.
“Soft life is living life on your terms. Creating a career you want, the business you want, and looking after yourself holistically. This starts with empowering yourself to succeed by elevating your mindset and knowing you deserve to live a soft life.”

This is something that Restful Sleep coaching stands for with the value of doing things in gentle ways. It's not about following checklists from other people or subscribing to generalisations when making choices for your life. It's about being able to honour what is needed in each moment, as well as what you may have capacity for, as you move through your days. The only way to know this is by listening to your body to navigate your boundaries (something hustle culture had us pushing through) and rest is a part of that.

This is why challenging the commonplace notion of not prioritising sleep and rest is close to my heart as a sleep coach. Because sleep and rest have such a significant impact on a person’s overall well-being.

When working with clients in the Wake Up Rested and Make Bold Changes coaching program, we first address sleep struggles and once they have a more reliable sleep schedule, the person then has more energy and capacity to look at their everyday life. From that place, we look at defining what success may actually look like for their needs and lifestyle. It’s based on what’s important to the individual, rather than taking on unsustainable ideas of what success may look like from other peoples’ ideas of success, such as hustle culture.

How sleep coaching can help tackle sleep deprivation

Sleep coaching helps to shine a light on any and all unhelpful behaviours that keep people stuck in perpetual sleep deprivation. It’s about experimenting with new ways of being that challenge a status quo that isn’t working.

I love helping clients to see how they can carve out more time in their lives for rest, relaxation and sleep, whilst honouring commitments and doing the things they love. Each person has their own unique needs and preferences in life, so in turn, will have their own unique solutions when it comes to finding their Restful Sleep. If you’d like to find out more about how sleep coaching could help with your sleep struggles, you can find out more here or book a free discovery call here.

Stay curious,



About the author

Maša Nobilo, Sleep Coach

From first-hand insomniac to certified Embodied Facilitator with training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, the Feldenkrais Method and Embodied Yoga Principles, Maša is well-equipped to support you on journey to restful sleep.
Learn more below.

  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
bottom of page