What is the first thing you think of when you hear sleep deprivation? Other than a strong desire to curl up in bed for a day or two, most people think of stress.
Stress due to everyday life is a huge factor in sleep deprivation. However, it is far from the only cause of this condition.
Sleep deprivation is bad because a lack of sleep means your body does not have the time to heal and re-energize. This leads to an inability to focus and other serious consequences.
What Causes Sleep Deprivation?
Stress, as mentioned above, is a very common cause of sleep deprivation, even in otherwise completely healthy individuals.
However, there are many other situations and conditions that cause sleep deprivation. These include:
Lack of Routine – For those with a schedule that changes due to work schedule or other factors, it becomes difficult to train your body to sleep at the same time and for a set period of time.
Therefore, many people find themselves with less sleep than they need to function at their highest levels.
Fighting Circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle – Along with a lack of routine, the body has instinctual processes that govern your routines.
The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour rhythm that has low points of efficiency at 3 to 5 both in the a.m. And p.m.
These are typically times that people are sleeping, as many cultures take a nap in the late afternoon.
The sleep-wake cycle is the tendency to be awake and alert during the daylight hours and the desire or drive to go to sleep as darkness approaches.
Medical Conditions – There are many medical conditions, like sleep apnea, that prevent a restful sleep that includes the many stages of sleep.
There are certain conditions that interfere with the body’s ability to sleep and therefore cause people to stay awake for days or even weeks.
Today’s technology use is a surprisingly large reason for sleep deprivation. Studies show that people tend to use electronics in the hours leading up to the time they go to sleep.
This seriously increases the chances of a less than fulfilling rest period of 8 hours that is the current recommendation for adults.
What Is Sleep Debt and What is Its Impact?
For those who are not getting a sufficient amount of sleep on a nightly basis, a sleep debt begins to build.
This debt is what happens when adults decrease their daily sleep amount from the recommended eight hours to four hours. Typically, there is a significant impact on functions and habits.
If this sleep debt continues to grow because adults limit their sleep to a schedule of less than six hours for extended periods, a time will come when the individual crashes and sleeps for an extended period of time as the body attempts to make up some of the debt it has accrued by not getting eight hours of sleep nightly.
Serious Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
For those who suffer from sleep deprivation for extended periods of time, consequences can range from temporary and inconvenient to long-term and very serious.
These type of consequences can change your life forever if sleep deprivation is not dealt with in a timely and effective manner.
Some consequences of Sleep Deprivation include:
Decreased Alertness – The inability to pay attention in daily life because you are so tired you are not alert can be a problem.
If you are pursuing an education, it is necessary to be alert and able to comprehend the information being taught.
If you do not understand the information and take it in as it is taught, later productivity and tests may suffer greatly.
Memory and Cognitive Impairment – Like mentioned above, sufferers with sleep deprivation may not have the ability to be alert and therefore lose the chance to take in information and remember it as necessary.
This can impact an educational environment or a work environment, since performance in meetings and the retention of expectations in the workplace may suffer.
Relationship Strain – For those in a committed relationship or marriage, their sleep deprivation affects not only them but the other members of the household.
For someone with continuous sleep issues, a partner may choose to sleep in another room or be so stressed out by a partner that does not have a regular sleep pattern that fights or other negative impacts on the relationship may occur.
Injuries at Work, In a Vehicle or Elsewhere – When you suffer from sleep deprivation and cannot focus or remember, it only becomes logical that physical injury can occur.
This means the individual can hurt themselves or others when driving or working with heavy machinery.
The person can also be hurt walking through a crowd or accidentally cause injury to others in a group if they are not aware because their body is struggling after a lack of sleep.
Depression – For those who continue to suffer from a lack of sleep, a resulting decrease in emotional health can occur. This means less interest in hobbies and activities they previously enjoyed.
If this correlates with a lack of physical activity, it can mean a further decrease in an individual’s need for sleep and therefore perpetuate the ugly cycle.
Weakened Immune System – Since the body is not able to recharge on a nightly basis, some issues occur with the immune system and its ability to fight off diseases. This can result in more colds and flu for the individual.
If the person is susceptible to more serious conditions, these can gain a foothold if the immune system is struggling.
This is another reason it is important to address sleep issues as soon as they are apparent, in order to ward off bigger potential problems in the future.
Common Conditions that Correlate With a Lack of Sleep
Sleep Apnea – This condition occurs when a person is sleeping and their breathing becomes interrupted.
Some people can stop breathing as many times as 100 instances per night sleep. This leads to lower oxygen levels, which impact the body’s ability to function normally and complete the routines necessary to recharge for the next day.
In the more common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, the airway of the individual is blocked in some way.
This typically occurs as the soft tissue in the throat blocks the airway while the person sleeps.
The less common form, Central Sleep Apnea, occurs when the brain actually fails to send the signals necessary to keep the individual’s breathing regular and steady.
Restless Leg Syndrome – This issue occurs when there is an abnormal activity in the nervous system and an individual’s legs continually receive the direction to move when that person is attempting to sleep.
This causes an itchy feeling for the sufferer, and that feeling can be in the arms or other areas of the body as well as the legs. This definitely detracts from the ability to get a restful night’s sleep.
This issue is common to roughly 1/10th of the population and is something seen most in the middle-aged or elderly, although it can happen to anyone at any age.
Snoring – This condition occurs when a physical obstruction impacts the air flow through the mouth and nose while an individual is attempting to sleep.
This not only bothers the loved one who may share your bed, but it also interferes with your own ability to get a full eight hours of sleep and visit the various stages of sleep.
Snoring can be caused when the nasal airways are obstructed, when the muscle tone in the tongue and throat is less defined or when the throat tissue is bigger than normal due to obesity or other factors.
Narcolepsy – Despite the fact that narcolepsy is commonly recognized as the disorder when an individual can fall asleep anywhere and at any time – sometimes with no warning whatsoever, this condition can negatively impact regular sleep patterns and attribute to sleep deprivation.
With narcolepsy, the individual can be particularly tired during daylight hours and fall asleep with no warning, going directly into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
For those with narcolepsy, they can experience sleep paralysis, or the inability to move when falling asleep or waking up.
They can also face hallucinations due to the lack of control of their own sleep patterns.
In order to deal with this condition, a medication is typically prescribed, a healthy diet free of caffeine and other stimulants is recommended and individuals must exercise regularly and implement naps during the day to avoid the sudden fall into sleep that can occur.
Insomnia – Almost the opposite of narcolepsy, where people tend to be overtired at all times, insomnia occurs when an individual may desire to sleep but is unable to do so no matter what they try.
Some people can go to bed and fall asleep easily, but after only an hour or two, they are wide awake and unable to go back to sleep for a deeper, healthier sleep period of several hours in a row.
This can be a side effect of medications for other medical conditions, it can occur due to stress or other circumstances in the individual’s lifestyle.
Teeth Grinding – This occurs for people with high stress levels, where the subconscious encourages the individual to continually grind their teeth together while sleeping.
This is another situation where the person sharing the individual’s bed suffers and so does the person who actually grinds their teeth.
This can result in the person waking themselves out of sleep and missing out on the deeper cycles of the sleep pattern.
What to Do in Case of Sleep Deprivation
There are many things an individual can focus on in order to minimize the chance of sleep deprivation or fight it before a significant sleep debt can be accrued.
Avoid swing shift jobs – This is not always possible. However, in a lot of cases, a job can be done on a swing shift basis until seniority is reached.
Then, a worker can request a set schedule so they can complete their work week, spend time with their loved ones and still manage to get a sufficient amount of sleep.
Create a manageable routine and stick to it – For some people, getting less sleep during the week and allowing themselves to catch up on the weekends is acceptable.
For others, a very strict schedule must be set to get the same amount of sleep each day and allow their body to handle the necessary processes to re-energize the same way each day. It is best to determine which fits your style more aptly and stick with this routine.
For those with medical conditions, solutions like higher intake of caffeine or exposure to bright light are possible answers to the fact these people will be less aware during the day.
While not likely to work on a continued basis or permanently, these solutions can be used sparingly and alternated with other methods to keep them effective.
With these tips, and others, individuals can find healthier sleep patterns quickly.
Stress Relief Tips to Help You Sleep Better
There are some basic things you can do to see if you can improve your sleep patterns quickly and efficiently. These also help you create a healthier lifestyle and get you on the path to a better overall contentment with life.
Exercise – This can help with weight loss, self-confidence and various other factors in your life. Most importantly, exercising releases endorphins and also burns calories.
For those who exercise and finish up two to three hours before they plan to go to sleep, they can find a much better chance of falling asleep easily and staying asleep for the recommended eight hours.
Avoid technology in the bedroom – Having access to technology in all rooms of the house can be addictive.
However, the light and sound from a television can be counterproductive for those attempting to reach the deeper cycles of sleep.
Likewise, the tendency to send texts or emails or check social media before falling asleep can actually interfere with the body’s attempts to wind down and reach sleep mode.
Create routines that tell your body it’s time for sleep – This has been proven to be effective.
As in other things, such as attempting to memorize important data, creating a routine that you use on a regular basis can train your body to recognize that it is time to fall asleep.
Try reading for a set amount of time or meditating prior to laying down for bed. If done daily and for the same amount of time, it becomes a conditioned response for your body to attempt sleep after this activity.
Create a comfortable sleep environment – For some this seems like a no-brainer. However, factors like the temperature of the bedroom and the ventilation may not be considered.
It is best to have air circulating well through the sleep area and to have it at a comfortable temperature. Avoid discussing serious topics, particularly those involving strong emotions, when bedtime is within the hour.
Likewise, despite the temptation to keep furry friends close, it is recommended to have pets sleep elsewhere.
Finally, use a sleep mask or heavy curtains to limit the light that reaches you while you are attempting to sleep.
All of these can help to create a comfortable environment your body recognizes as the place to sleep and help you achieve the maximum amount of sleep and therefore optimal health.
Going without sleep is a serious situation. For those who do it on a limited basis, as in one night to study for an important test for school or to finish a big project for work, this does not have long-term effects.
For those who do it three or four nights per week yet allow time to “catch up” on those lost hours of sleep at a later date, this also can be done in a manageable manner.
However, for those who live on four hours of sleep per night for weeks or months at a time, as well as those who do not regularly get into the healthier levels of the sleep cycle, it is time to stop and take stock of your life.
What could be contributing to the sleep deprivation you are dealing with? How can you go about changing these aspects of your life in order to create a healthier sleep routine?
If lifestyle changes have been implemented and sleep deprivation is still causing a lack of alertness during the day or memory loss or other serious issues, a consultation with a doctor is the next step.
The doctor can help rule out serious conditions that interfere with your sleep, as were mentioned above, and get you back to getting healthy amounts of sleep on a nightly basis.
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