WebMD Logo Icon
WebMD Connect to Care helps you find services to manage your health. When you purchase any of these services, WebMD may receive a fee. WebMD does not endorse any product, service or treatment referred to on this page. X

Sleep Deprivation Psychosis Is A Real Thing

By Lan Pham, John McGuire
Studies have shown that the longer you go without sleep, the higher your likelihood for developing serious psychiatric symptoms—including a disconnection from reality and hallucinations.

Sleep deprivation psychosiswhen the absence of sleep causes a disconnection from reality that can present as hallucinations or delusional thinking—is a known effect of severe, prolonged sleep deprivation. Here, we explain what you need to know about sleep deprivation psychosis and what you can do about it.

What is Sleep Deprivation Psychosis?

The quality of your mental health is closely connected to your sleep patterns, according to Harvard Medical School. In fact, sleep problems, including sleep deprivation, are especially common among those with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. 

Additionally, sleep deprivation can contribute to symptoms resembling psychosis, which is when a person becomes disconnected from reality. Yale School of Medicine characterizes the symptoms of psychosis as:

  • Confused thinking: Muddled thinking, difficulty concentrating, speech that doesn’t make sense, or racing thoughts.
  • False beliefs: When a person is convinced of an idea that is counter to reality, also called a delusion.
  • Hallucinations: When a person senses something that is not there. Hallucinations can involve all five senses.
  • Changed feelings: This can present as unusual or unexplained mood swings or dampened emotional responses.
  • Changed behaviors: This is erratic or unusual behavior compared to a person’s baseline.

A 2018 systematic review published by Frontiers in Psychiatry found that long periods of sleep deprivation can result in a range of psychiatric symptoms, including perceptual distortions and hallucinations.

Furthermore, after examining pertinent literature, the review found that psychiatric symptoms escalate in tandem with an increasing amount of time awake. In the absence of sleep, these symptoms typically begin with simple visual or somatosensory misperceptions, before developing into hallucinations and delusions and potentially ending in a state resembling acute psychosis. 

Furthermore, certain sleep disorders are known to co-occur with symptoms of psychosis. A 2016 research article published by Frontiers in Psychiatry studied a sample population of patients with psychosis and found that this population had high levels of sleep disturbance, including obstructive sleep apnea

How to Treat Sleep Deprivation-Induced Psychosis

Simply put, the restoration of proper amounts of sleep can decrease the presence of psychotic experiences. A 2015 systematic review published by Clinical Psychology Review found that, while sleep dysfunction can indeed contribute to psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, improvements in the sleep quality of patients experiencing psychosis may lessen psychotic symptoms. 

Additionally, complete diagnostic screening for sleep disorders may be necessary. “The brain needs proper sleep to function normally. If a sleep disorder is suspected, it’s critical to get a proper diagnosis for optimal health”, Bradley Eli, D.M.D., M.S., a Sleep Medicine specialist in Encinitas, Calif., tells WebMD Connect to Care.

The 2015 review published by Clinical Psychology Review affirms this, citing extensive scientific literature demonstrating that treatment of sleep apnea in patients with psychosis improves both psychotic symptoms and sleep quality. 

In the case of sleep apnea, treatment may include the following interventions, according to Cleveland Clinic:

  • Weight loss
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
  • Mandibular advancement devices
  • Hypoglossal nerve stimulation
  • Upper airway or jaw surgery

Think you may have a sleep disorder? Start your journey to more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.