Spoon Test for Sleep Deprivation

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Modern lifestyle and the demands that it brings have affected the sleep schedule of many people around the world. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has declared that there are more than 50 kinds of sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation is the initial stage of such disorders, affecting all people irrespective of age, race, or ethnicity and includes sleeplessness and disorders of the circadian sleep-wake cycle.

Image Credit: Stokkete / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Stokkete / Shutterstock

Long-term inadequate sleep quality and quantity can lead to chronic sleep deprivation. The amount of sleep that humans require changes throughout the different stages of life; on an average, an adult needs 7–9 hrs of continuous sleep, while a child needs much more and older people often require slightly less.

Sleeping less than the specified hours can have major consequences on health like risks of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and emotional disorders.

Are you getting enough sleep? This simple test will tell you... | World Sleep Day

Factors of sleep deprivation

Some early signs of sleep deprivation are people who fall asleep very quickly, take frequent naps, doze off without meaning to, or sleep for very long hours during the weekend. There are several factors that may lead to sleep deprivation, and certain groups of people have a higher risk than others, because of the following reasons:

  • Late hours of watching television, browsing the Internet, or preferring to socialize instead of going to bed regularly at a particular time.
  • Colds and tonsillitis that cause disturbances in sleep such as gagging and frequent waking.
  • Working in rotational shifts disrupt sleep-wake cycles. Airline crews are frequent travelers to different time zones, so they tend to have erratic sleep patterns.
  • Concurrent health problems such as sleep apnea, snoring, and periodic limb movement disorder can disturb a person’s sleep throughout the night.
  • Some drugs used to treat disorders such as epilepsy or attention deficit hyperactivity can cause insomnia.
  • The habit of drinking stimulants such as tea/coffee or smoking cigarettes before bedtime, which can inhibit sleep.
  • Lying in bed and thinking and worrying, instead of relaxing.
  • Parents with very young children due to babies who wake frequently in the night.

The spoon test

Although sleep deprivation is estimated to affect one out of three people, it is not easily diagnosed. The spoon test or the Sleep onset latency test is a very simple home test used to diagnose sleep deprivation.
This test was created by the late Dr Nathaniel Kleitman from the University of Chicago, who is famously known as the “father of sleep research.”

Test procedure

Materials used

  • A watch to measure time
  • A metal spoon
  • A metal tray


This test is to be carried out only during the daytime. Darken the bedroom and then lie down at the edge of the bed. Keep a metal tray on the floor beside the bed and hold a metal spoon over it. The individual should note the time and close their eyes as if to sleep.

When the individual falls asleep, the hand will loosen its grip over the spoon and it will come crashing down onto the tray, waking them up. Immediately look at the watch and note how much time has passed.


If they have fallen asleep within 5 min, they are most likely severely sleep-deprived; if it took 10 min to fall asleep, they likely need more sleep than you are now getting; however, if they were awake for 15 min or more before falling asleep, they are probably getting adequate good sleep regularly.


The test indicates that falling asleep too quickly during the day is not a very good sign. Even at night, sleeping immediately after lying on the bed is a symptom of sleep deprivation. It is said that a person who gets to sleep after more than 20 min of lying in bed has adequate sleep.


This is a very simple test through which one can determine the quality of sleep one has and decide whether serious treatment is needed. Lack of sleep can be a result of physical or mental weakness and can lead to serious health issues. Therefore, it is advisable to prevent worsening of the condition than to cure it.


In the test, there is always the chance that the spoon misses the tray and falls outside it. In such cases, one may not wake up by the sound created by the spoon and will not be able to record the timing accurately, which leads to the failure of the experiment.

Alternative method

Dr. Michael Mosley, a physician as well as a journalist for the BBC suggests a simpler alternative to the problem of “spoon missing the tray.” He advises setting an alarm for 15 min so that one can note whether sleep happens within that time. As mentioned above, 15 min is a safe time and if one crosses this limit without falling asleep, the conclusion is a positive one.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 13, 2023

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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