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Sleep Deprivation Amnesia: Symptoms and Issues

Gabrielle Applebury
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Disoriented woman in bed

Sleep amnesia is the inability to recall memories and consolidate new memories after a period of sleep deprivation. This can be incredibly uncomfortable and cause a slew of symptoms that negatively impact your life.

Causes and Health Risks

Chronic lack of sleep, insomnia, and other underlying disorders can cause sleep amnesia. Symptoms vary depending on the underlying issue and how chronic the sleep deprivation is. Those with sleep amnesia due to sleep deprivation have a higher risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, as well as the possibility of a shortened life span. Relationships, work life, and home life can all be negatively impacted by sleep deprivation amnesia.

Irritability and Anxiety

One of the side effects of amnesia due to sleep deprivation or lack of quality sleep can be irritability and symptoms of anxiety. You may feel jittery and uneasy, and you may have little patience with your loved ones. You may find yourself snapping at others, or feeling angrier than usual. The hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex are all negatively impacted by sleep deprivation. This can, in turn, lead to increased irritability and anxiety as these areas of the brain help to regulate memory, mood and learning.

Memory Loss and Learning

Memory loss and learning are also impacted by sleep deprivation and amnesia. Typically, individuals experience anterograde amnesia, meaning that they are unable to consolidate new information and new skills; these types of memories and knowledge are solidified during a good night's sleep. If this doesn't happen, individuals report not recalling entire days or new skills that were learned the day before. This can be incredibly scary and disorienting for someone to experience. While older memories and skills may still be retained, it can be incredibly frustrating to lose the ability to consolidate new information.

Difficulty Concentrating

If your quality of sleep is lacking, you may also experience a hard time concentrating and focusing on your day-to-day decisions, as well as general tasks. This can lead to making riskier decisions, performing worse on a task or exam, and feeling more disoriented overall. This can make holding down a job, performing household tasks, and taking care of yourself really challenging. You may feel foggy, out of it, and generally disconnected.

Underlying Sleep Issues

Sleep amnesia can be the result of several potential issues. If you are experiencing sleep amnesia, you should talk to your doctor, a counselor, or sleep specialist about potential causes. They will screen for comorbid and underlying issues that may be impacting your sleep and causing memory loss. They will ask basic physical and mental health questions, and may even observe your sleeping habits at a special sleep clinic where they can monitor your brain activity. They may screen you for:

  • Post traumatic stress disorder - A dissociative trauma based disorder that can impact sleep
  • Mood disorders - Including anxiety and depressive disorders that can hinder your quality of sleep
  • Sleep apnea - A sleep disorder that prevents you from getting a restorative night of sleep
  • Insomnia - The inability to fall asleep, causing serious sleep related issues including sleep amnesia
  • Chronic health issues - Like heart disease and diabetes
  • Traumatic brain injuries - From a variety of possible incidents and accidents

It is important when consulting with a medical professional that you indicate you are not sleeping well. This can reduce the chances of misdiagnosis and ensure that your sleep amnesia is suitably addressed and treated.

Seeking Help for Sleep Amnesia

Chronic sleep deprivation or lack of quality sleep can not only lead to sleep amnesia but also a myriad of other uncomfortable symptoms. If you or a loved one are suffering from amnesia triggered by sleep loss or deprivation, there is help available. Sleep clinics and specialists are trained to help improve your sleep hygiene and treat underlying disorders so you can get back to having a healthier and more restorative night of sleep again.

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Sleep Deprivation Amnesia: Symptoms and Issues