This paper presents the history of research and the results of recent studies on the effects of sleep deprivation in animals and humans. Humans can bear several days of continuous sleeplessness, experiencing deterioration in wellbeing and effectiveness; however, also a shorter reduction in the sleep time may lead to deteriorated functioning. Sleeplessness accounts for impaired perception, difficulties in keeping concentration, vision disturbances, slower reactions, as well as the appearance of microepisodes of sleep during wakefulness which lead to lower capabilities and efficiency of task performance and to increased number of errors. Sleep deprivation results in poor memorizing, schematic thinking, which yields wrong decisions, and emotional disturbances such as deteriorated interpersonal responses and increased aggressiveness. The symptoms are accompanied by brain tissue hypometabolism, particularly in the thalamus, prefrontal, frontal and occipital cortex and motor speech centres. Sleep deficiency intensifies muscle tonus and coexisting tremor, speech performance becomes monotonous and unclear, and sensitivity to pain is higher. Sleeplessness also relates to the changes in the immune response and the pattern of hormonal secretion, of the growth hormone in particular. The risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease increases. The impairment of performance which is caused by 20-25 hours of sleeplessness is comparable to that after ethanol intoxication at the level of 0.10% blood alcohol concentration. The consequences of chronic sleep reduction or a shallow sleep repeated for several days tend to accumulate and resemble the effects of acute sleep deprivation lasting several dozen hours. At work, such effects hinder proper performance of many essential tasks and in extreme situations (machine operation or vehicle driving), sleep loss may be hazardous to the worker and his/her environment.