Sleep deprivation is a common problem in modern society, resulting in many health issues. It happens when an individual experiences disruption in sleep patterns by staying awake due to various reasons. Kids, adults, and seniors are all vulnerable to the impacts of sleep deprivation.
Sleep loss drastically affects your physical wellbeing, mental health, memory, mood, etc. in far-reaching and surprising ways.
Occasional alterations in sleep patterns are usually not a matter of concern. Yet, continued inadequacy of sleep can result in low productivity, lack of focus, excessive daytime sleepiness, obesity, emotional complexities, poor job performance, and a reduced perception of the quality of life. A few preventive measures and a certain amount of care and attention should be taken to prevent ongoing sleep deprivation in people of all age groups(Source).
What Is Sleep Deprivation?
Insufficient sleep or sleeplessness when we do not get adequate sleep to feel alert and rested is termed as sleep deprivation. It is a serious disorder that impacts our quality of life, drains our health, happiness, and financial resources.
A chronic sleep-restricted state can result in clumsiness, costly diseases, acute fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and increased appetite thus causing obesity. It could also result in workplace absenteeism and accidents.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommendations for sleep duration for all ages has been given below;
Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can cause a wide range of health ailments, including:
- Increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes
- Increased levels of stress hormones
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease
- Raised levels of inflammation
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Memory problems
- Weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to pain
Sleep deprivation also impairs cognitive functioning, decision-making, and reaction times. Which is why sleep deprivation increases the risk of vehicle accidents. Sleep loss is also believed to elevate skin aging and reduce the skin’s potential to heal.
Since sleep loss causes an impact on the hunger hormone named leptin, people binge on an increased amount of carbs and calories making their gastrointestinal upset. This also increases weight. Other issues which one experiences due to sleep loss include nausea, heartburn or increase or reduction in appetite(Source)
Fast Facts On Sleep Deprivation
- – Loss of sleep modifies normal body functions and disrupts the ability to focus on environmental sensory input
- – Lack of sleep has been found to be responsible for tragic accidents involving airplanes, ships, trains, automobiles, and nuclear power plants
- – Children and youngsters are most vulnerable to the negative effects of sleep loss
- – When you are sleep deprived, you start to gather a sleep debt
- – Sleep deprivation can be a symptom of a sleep disorder that has not been diagnosed or even any other medical issue (Source)
Causes And Symptoms Of Sleep Deprivation
Causes Of Sleep Deprivation
- Medical Conditions-Medical Conditions like stomach ache, upper respiratory infection, and even pregnancy. Other medical issues that may make it hard to sleep and are exacerbated by sleep deprivation include depression, irritability, paranoia, and anxiety
- Sleep Disorders-Disorders, like periodic limb movement disorder, disturb the sleep as it causes jerking movements of the legs during sleep
- Uncomfortable Environment-Though neglected often, this can also affect your relaxing sleep. Sleeping in rooms that are too hot or too cold, too much light and noise in the room may wake you up from a sound sleep
- Pets-Having pets in the bed can be a cause of disturbed sleep
- Alcohol-While alcohol might help you to fall to sleep faster, it awakes you up once the sedative action of alcohol is over. This affects the sleep cycle or distribution of stages of sleep.
- Medications & Supplements-Medications & Supplements – Some medications, like steroids and beta-blockers, are known to keep you awake at night.
- Exhaustion-Another common reason for sleep deprivation. Relaxing and allowing the mind to settle down is very important if the body is too exhausted after a stressful day
- Hot flashes-Hot flashes – particularly in women in menopause.
Symptoms Of Sleep Deprivation
- Mood and behavioral changes, which may include anxiety, and depression
- Problems with functions like planning, organization, and judgment
- Psychiatric symptoms like paranoia, disorientation, and hallucinations
- Difficulty concentrating. This can result in decreased reaction times, impaired work/school performance, or increased risk of car accidents
- Physical effects, such as gastrointestinal symptoms, such as upset stomach or diarrhea and generalized discomfort, pain and aches.
- Any interference in the natural flow of the sleep cycle can impact hormones such as growth hormone and thyroid hormone contributing to infertility
- Increased risk for stroke. heart disease, and asthma attack
- Diminished ability to combat infections
- A small decrease in your body temperature, due to cold
Sleep Deprivation – Effects
Sleep deprivation can cause serious impacts on a range of systems in the human body.
The effects include:
- Stress & Depression: Lack of sleep makes you moody, emotional, and easy to lose your temper.
- Lack of sleep hurts cognitive abilities like learning and thinking. Sleep deficit impairs alertness, focus, attention, concentration, problem-solving skill, and reasoning.
- Sleep Deprivation leads to various health problems namely impairment of heart vessels, increased risk of cardiovascular disorders and respiratory problems, high blood pressure, an increase in diabetes level, as well as an increase in inflammation levels.
- Inadequate sleep prevents the body from producing more cytokines to fight infection. This slows down the recovery process and a person can take longer to recover from illness. Sleep deprivation also results in increasing the risk of chronic illness.
- Decreased sex drive. Sleep deficit results in less interest in sex, depleted energy, increased tension, and lower libidos. Insufficient sleep can impact growth hormones and testosterone in men.
- Sleep Deprivation also has effects on your skin. Such as aging skin, sallow skin, lacklustre skin, puffy eyes, fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes.
- Sleep loss causes an impact on body weight. The production of hormones called leptin and ghrelin are deeply impacted by inadequate sleep. Those hormones are responsible for controlling hunger, fullness, and satiety feelings. The release of these hormones increases due to sleep loss and thus there is an increase in weight. Sleep deficit also results in increased production of insulin, that causes increased fat storage and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes
Treatments – Sleep Deprivation
Non-Medical treatments use psychological and behavioral techniques. These are mostly self-taught but asking a sleep specialist or a therapist for instruction is always a good idea.
Relaxation training also termed as progressive muscle relaxation helps to induce sleep and calm the body. Some relaxation techniques that are beneficial in inducing sleep include:
- Autogenic Training – Autogenic training is a desensitization-relaxation technique that uses a series of exercises to relieve stress. It is like yoga and meditation that trains a person to understand and access his own mental and physical calmness.
- Biofeedback- It is a therapy that is helpful in treating conditions like high BP, chronic pain, migraine headaches and, incontinence. Biofeedback techniques involve monitoring and gathering information using sensors about a person’s physiological state. This information alerts your body and allows you to take steps to relax your mind. This may include gaining voluntary control over such things as sweating, blood pressure, body temperature, blood flow, heart rate, muscle tension, and pain perception.
- Breathing-Slow, deep, self-aware breathing exercises are a powerful and ancient technique to remove mental tension from your brain and body. Breathing exercises help you shut out distractions and calm your body. It creates a relaxing ambiance and helps you to fall asleep faster.
- Guided imagery-Guided imagery is a mind-body technique that includes simple visualization, alleviates stress and promotes sleep. This powerful mind-body tool helps to connect the conscious and unconscious mind. It uses your imagination to create relaxing or positive images. This helps the mind direct the body towards positive and desirable responses.
2. Stimulus Control Therapy
Stimulus control therapy establishes a positive relationship between your sleeping room and sleeps by restricting the number of activities in the bedroom.
The therapy aims to reduce the conditioned arousal or depression people may experience before going to bed. A set of instructions designed to relink the bed/bedroom with sleep and to re-establish a consistent sleep schedule are implemented.
3. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a talking therapy that aims to help you change your thinking in order to change your behavior.
It is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that enables people to better understand their thought(feeling) process that affects their behaviors. It is used to several disorders that are associated with sleep loss like; phobias, anxiety, addictions, and depression.
Medical treatment for sleep deprivation includes any of the following:
- Allergy or cold medication
- Sleeping pills
- Medications for any underlying health issues
- Melatonin supplements
- Surgery or breathing device specifically in case of sleep apnoea
- A dental guard usually for teeth grinding
Some prescription sleep medications include:
- Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
- Trazodone (Desyrel)
- Zaleplon (Sonata)
- Ramelteon (Rozerem)
- Zolpidem (Ambien)
This should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please see a qualified health professional before applying any of these methods.
Sleep Deprivation – Prevention
To improve your sleep quality, some preventive measures may be helpful. Try these sleeping tips before bed:
- Create and stick to a regular and consistent sleeping schedule. Maintain a strict time to go to bed and wake up to develop a routine.
- Avoid taking naps during the day because naps make you less sleepy at night.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine within 8 hours of bedtime
- Follow bedtime routine like brushing your teeth, washing face, prayer for 2 minutes. These cues send psychological signals to alert your mind and body that it’s time to sleep.
- Limit the use of electronic appliances (television, laptop, & mobile) 1 hour before bed. These devices emit light and disrupt your body’s biological clock.
- Try not to exercise three hours before the time you go to sleep. Regular exercising in the day, however, is beneficial.
- Use your bed only for sleeping and sex.
- Try and keep all tensions and worries out and feel relaxed before sleeping.
- Meditate to improve your focus, mindfulness, relieve stress and reduce anxiety stress
Loss of sleep is a serious medical problem that warrants attention. You cannot afford to ignore your sleep deprivation or take them lightly. Sleep cannot wait until you are dead.
Following certain preventive measures as discussed above can have a significant impact. A little bit of attention and care can help you sleep well and improve your quality of life. If preventive measures are not helpful, ensure to see your qualified health professional. Make sure that your sleep problem is not associated with some undiagnosed medical disease. Several prescription medications are also available to fix this problem.
Expert Verified By Dr. Amita Fotedar, Ph.D