Are You Sleep Deprived Or Just Sleepy?

Sleepy woman with grass near face.

The delicate line between sleepy and sleep deprived is thinner than a single thread.

Sleep deprived implies a more sustained state of exhaustion as compared to just being plain sleepy. It’s a debate best left to the experts—and while many of them like to get into the nitty-gritty details, let’s be honest: there’s not much to be gained by getting caught up in all that. Bottom line? If you’re sleep-deprived, you’re going to feel sleepy – it’s just part of the package!

Don’t go around sleep deprived.


When you don’t get enough sleep, your ability to make decisionsuffer. You’re more inclined to get into traffic accidents, either as a motorist or pedestrian. Your bodily defenses against illness become weaker.  

It can be costly on a relationship and career basis too. The inability to control your feelings becomes more apparent as the lack of sleep persists. You might cry. You might fly into a rage.   

Whatever happens, going without sleep probably won’t strengthen your relationships, let you ace any of the tests life throws at you, or help you better your lot.

If you’re in an occupation that requires quick reflexes and sound judgment, trying to work while genuinely being sleepy or sleep-deprived can get you killed. More than one oilfield worker and soldier have suffered severe injury and death due to a lack of sleep. 

Sometimes a schedule can be challenging, but nothing good can come of going without sleep. At most, when you’re irrevocably exhausted, you’re little more than a placeholder, occupying a space,  a shell of the person you are when fully rested. 

Say you’re “sleep deprived” for dramatic flare

No, not really.

There’s nothing cool about sleep deprivation. It shouldn’t be a badge of distinction like you’re somehow too important to get seven to eight hours of sleep. Seeing it as glamorous means your health is eventually going to pay a price. Trying to do things when you’re overly tired means you’re not going to be doing anything with very much efficiency. It’s only cool to masochists.

Plenty of very important people get the recommended amount of sleep. At least we better hope they do. A lot of lives and careers ride on their decisions. We want them to make the best decisions they can. 

Precious few people have a good excuse for under allocating time to sleep. Legitimate reasons are scarce outside of military survival training courses, the bedrooms of new parents, and enemy prisoner-of-war camps. 

In those cases, circumstances are forcing you to stay up and abandon your body’s need for sleep.  

You shouldn’t think there’s anything admirable about driving around town like a zombie as if that should ever be in fashion. You’re not able to think straight. It’s the root cause of many horrible, life-changing accidents. You’re operating with poor reflexes.

It sounds silly to write but it’s true: sleep deprivation is glamorized a bit in our go-go culture. It’s foolish.

When should you give up on getting enough sleep?

When you need to. In the “unforgiving minute.” 

In the final lines of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem IfKipling writes: 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute  

With sixty seconds’ worth of the distance run –  

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,  

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!  

This stanza has confused many people. 

When Kipling refers to the “unforgiving minute,” he’s poetically describing a period of time with high stakes, the “now or never.” It’s time that matters. 

By definition, it’s not all the time. 

Then he talks about “sixty seconds worth of the distance run.” 

He’s talking about holding in, staying with doing what you’re doing to complete the job when it matters, as it does when it’s the “unforgiving minute.” 

You’re not quitting. You’re sticking to it, holding in there, not giving up. 

That’s the only time when it’s okay to do important things when you’re overtired. 

Luckily, that’s a pretty rare instance. Most minutes are pretty forgiving. 

They’re made better if you keep your eye on the fundamentals of sleep.

Sleepiness isn’t a badge of distinction

Screw hustle culture! How can sleeplessness ever be cool? How can that make you special? 

The only time that is cool is when you’re heading off to bed.

Contrary to what you might think, forcing yourself to stay awake or chugging stimulants doesn’t prove you care more or are a better person. 

It should actually be sad when you’re sleepy, and circumstance doesn’t permit you to lay down and rest.  

Sometimes people think less of you because you’re too sleepy. They think you can’t manage everything you have to do. They think you don’t have it together, that maybe you’re not very well organized.  

Guaranteed. They’re thinking something of you, and it isn’t necessarily good.  

Make sleep more of a priority than you have been. Seriously. 

Get enough sleep and be a wonder of efficiency.  

Make others think about how you have it all together.  

Really! How does he/she do it? With all they have to do, he/she gets seven hours of sleep every day! 

It might be me who you drive head-on into on a two-lane piece of blacktop.  

It might be me who you decide to go off on because you “can’t take it anymore!” 

I’m all for the world being a better place. 

If everybody got all of the sleep they neededthe world would be a better place for all of us. 

Yet, face the fact that everyone is going to have some trouble getting enough sleep from time to time.

Did you allot enough time for sleep?

If you haven’t been allotting enough time in the day for sleep for awhile, that could be sleep deprivation.  

If it’s been a night or two, that could be being sleepy. 

If it was one extreme night, it could be sleepiness. 

Go to bed. It shouldn’t really matter which one it is. 

If you did allot enough time and then laid there half awake and this is the next day (or whatever you call the period of wakefulness that follows your night of what was supposed to be sleep), you might be sleepy. Laying there is the same thing as resting, even if you don’t drift off to sleep. It counts, even if it’s not high-quality sleep. It’s better than nothing.

You may have been perceiving yourself as being awake when you were asleep. Laying there is the first step to getting enough sleep. 


For further reading:

Should your dog sleep in the same bed?

Sleep less at night and stay healthy

How to sleep in a haunted house

What are the “Walls of Sleep?”

What are the 3 pressure points for sleep that really work?


James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life. 


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