Sleep deprivation is a condition that occurs when you don’t receive enough sleep. The amount of sleep you need each night varies from person to person but typically falls between seven to nine hours each night. Children and teens, who are still growing, need even more.
Don’t be surprised if your ideal sleep time differs from someone else’s. Each person is unique, with some needing as few as five or six hours to recoup while others need a solid eight to ten hours each night.
You can also experience symptoms of sleep deprivation when you aren’t sleeping well. This can include a plethora of sleep-related conditions or disorders, including insomnia, anxiety, snoring, sleep apnea and more.
Sleep is just as important to the human body as food and water, but most of us don’t sleep enough. According to one U.S. study, 35% of adults aren’t getting adequate sleep — that’s more than one-third of America trying to operate when our brains and bodies aren’t working at full capacity.
When left untreated, sleep deprivation can have major consequences.
What Causes Sleep Deprivation?
The most common cause of sleep deprivation revolves around not getting enough sleep. And the causes of not getting enough sleep are endless. Maybe you can’t sleep at night, but then take a nap during the day, disrupting your whole cycle? Or perhaps you have high anxiety, with racing thoughts at night that cause insomnia?
Another issue could be disruptions during sleep, which prevent your body from falling into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. REM sleep is needed to keep your brain and body healthy and functioning normally. Disorders like sleep apnea can often cause you to wake periodically throughout the night, preventing you from getting the type of sleep you need.
Other factors causing sleep deprivation include:
- Thyroid disorders
- High-stress lifestyles
- Stimulants like caffeine
- Poor diet
One cause of sleep deprivation becoming more prevalent is exposure to blue light. This light, which is given off by electronic devices like television, computers, tablets and smartphones, have proven to throw off our natural circadian rhythms. But since we surround ourselves with these devices day and night, blue light becomes increasingly harder to avoid.
If you experience sleep deprivation, the best way to determine the cause is to think about your daily routine. What are you doing which could cause your sleep to be disrupted at night? And, what can you do to ensure a better night’s sleep?
How Sleep Deprivation Can Affect You
What happens to your body when you sleep poorly, too little or not at all? Research shows sleep deprivation can harm both your physical and mental health.
Your body needs proper rest each night for a variety of important reasons, including:
- Strengthening the immune system
- Maintaining cognitive health
- Fighting off illness
- Balancing hormones
- Aiding digestion
Prolonged sleep deprivation can put you in harm’s way of more serious health concerns, including respiratory disease, type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Long-term effects can also cause changes in your body’s vital functions, with a noticeable impact on the kidneys, lungs, heart and other organs.
One of the most noticeable impacts is the disruption to brain function, with sleep deprivation proves to reduce reaction time, impair memory and increase unreliability. In fact, those who were sleep deprived thought they performed as well as their well-rested counterparts, even though they were not. As predicted, those with poor sleep did not function as well as those who received adequate sleep.
In fact, experts have compared extreme sleep deprivation to being drunk, with one study showing 20 to 25 hours of sleeplessness is comparable to a blood-alcohol level of .1%. That’s the equivalent of approximately five drinks for someone weighing 180 pounds.
Finding the Right Solution
The right treatment for sleep deprivation will depend entirely on the underlying cause.
For those who have seen a doctor and have a diagnosed disorder, such as sleep apnea or insomnia, you may want to try natural supplements, like melatonin. While you can ask for prescription sleep aid pills, it’s important to remember the effectiveness of these drugs typically wears off after a couple of weeks.
If the root of your sleeplessness is anxiety or stress, ask about medication like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), used to treat common mental health issues like depression. Some choose to use natural alternatives to deal with stress and anxiety, including meditation, yoga and exercise.
Other steps you can take to ensure you receive enough sleep include:
- Avoiding blue light at night
- Increasing exposure to natural light
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Creating a bedtime routine
- Avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
If you have difficulty sleeping but don’t know how to identify the underlying cause, talk with your doctor about your daily routine. They may pinpoint factors which could affect your sleep.
An expert will also discuss the possibility of a sleep disorder, such as snoring or sleep apnea, something you may not be aware of when you sleep. In some cases, a doctor may recommend you schedule a sleep study, where you spend the night under observation by medical professionals.
Once you wake up the next morning, you’ll talk about any concerns they witnessed.