The loss of sleep is a common problem in modern society, affecting many individuals at some point in their lives. Sleep deprivation occurs when an individual gets less sleep than they should. People vary in how little sleep is needed to be considered sleep-deprived. Some people such as older adults seem to be more resistant to the effects of sleep deprivation, while others, especially children and young adults, are more vulnerable. Although occasional sleep interruptions are generally a nuisance, ongoing lack of sleep can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, emotional difficulties, obesity and a lowered perception of quality of life. There is no questioning the importance of restorative sleep, and a certain amount of attention is necessary to both manage and prevent sleep deprivation.
Causes of Sleep Deprivation
What usually causes sleep deprivation in adults, and how do these causes differ from those in teens or even children? Research suggests that sleep deficiency is typically due to the following factors:
- A disorder that disrupts sleep, whether a thyroid disorder, dealing with pain, or something like acid reflux or sleep apnea. Snoring can also disturb sleep.
- A demanding, busy schedule.
- High amounts of stress.
- Effects of certain medications or stimulants.
- Eating a poor diet that can lead to blood sugar fluctuations.
- Eating too close to bedtime, or not eating enough with dinner/later in the day (such as if you’re fasting).
The main symptom of ongoing sleep loss is excessive daytime sleepiness, but other symptoms include:
- depressed mood
- lack of motivation
- reduced sex drive
Main Sleep Deprivation Effects
What exactly happens in your body when you have interrupted sleep, too little sleep, or even no sleep at all? Sleep deficiency can interfere with productivity at home, in your relationships and at work. Some of the most common negative effects of sleep deficiency include:
- Higher risk for chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, cancer and overall mortality.
- Trouble concentrating at work or school. This can include finding it harder to learn, focus, be creative, meet deadlines, remember information or take tests.
- Difficulty driving, and sometimes being more prone to getting into accidents. The CDC has found sleep insufficiency is “linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational error.”
- Less motivation to be social, which can spill over to feeling more isolated and sad.
- Poor moods, irritability, and even increased risk for depression. People who lack sleep report feeling more “cranky,” overwhelmed, angry, frustrated and worried.
Treatment is only required when a person physically cannot get to sleep, due to either physical or psychological difficulties. A therapist or sleep specialist will be able to offer guidance and coping techniques for reaching a restful state and sleeping. There are two main avenues of treatment for sleep deprivation: Behavioral and cognitive measures and medications.
Sleep deprivation can be linked to serious accidents and poor job or school performances. It can substantially lower an individual's quality of life. Lack of sleep disrupts the brain's ability to balance emotions and thinking abilities, lowers the body's natural defenses, and increases the chances of developing chronic medical problems. While the occasional poor night's sleep is not a serious problem in itself, persistent sleep deprivation can be. There is no substitute for restorative sleep. A certain amount of care should be taken to prevent ongoing sleep deprivation in individuals of all ages.