Sleep deprivation is not getting enough sleep to feel awake and rested. Although most of us have suffered from the odd sleepless night, lack of sleep over weeks or months can have a negative effect on our overall health. Read on to learn about the causes, symptoms and treatment of this common condition.
What causes sleep deprivation?
From stress and medications to shift work and late nights, sleep deprivation can be caused by a variety of factors. Depression, sleep disorders and medications can often affect regular sleeping patterns making it difficult for people to fall asleep when they need to. On the other hand, staying up late, working shifts or waking up too early or throughout the night can also disrupt sleep.
What are the symptoms of sleep deprivation?
Tiredness and fatigue are often the most obvious signs of this condition with some people falling asleep during the day. Too little sleep can leave you feeling really out of sync. From concentration problems, mood swings, irritability and stress related concerns to sometimes even feeling downright delirious, a lack of sleep can have some serious effects on your body.
So, what are the short-term effects of sleep deprivation?
Getting too little sleep even just for one night can affect your concentration levels, leaving your mind in a foggy state and unable to focus on important tasks. Being able to pay close attention is absolutely critical for most people’s daily lives and being well-rested can play a huge part in this.
For example, your journey into work might involve a lengthy commute. For this, you would likely rely on various signals and signs around you to help along your way. Losing just an hour’s sleep from the previous night could hinder your ability to focus on these.
Have you ever noticed that you can be slightly snappier towards people when you’ve skimped on your previous night’s sleep? That’s because a lack of sleep can affect your emotional conception, leaving you much more prone to heightened feelings or reaction towards something or someone that might not usually evoke such a display.
Stress! One small word with lots of serious connotations. If your working day involves a daunting task list or lots of plates needing to be spun, you may find that you are slightly more out of control when attempting to handle these.
When you become stressed, your brain releases a hormone called CRH. Research highlights that sleep helps to halt this particular hormone in its tracks. So the more sleep you encounter, the less stressed you will feel, and voila! Your plates are kept spinning at a steady pace.
And in the long-term?
Whilst it’s fair to say that you can ‘trade’ an hour here or there without derailing your health too much, various studies have shown that getting between 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep long-term can help lower the risk of some serious health problems, such as diabetes, heart attacks and obesity. Some studies even highlight that too little sleep can cause a more aggressive form of breast cancer.
Whilst a lack of sleep can cause mood shifts and irritability in the short-term, it can also play a role in depression if lack of sleep is presented in a more permanent pattern. Whilst it is unlikely to be the whole cause, it can certainly make it worse. Depression itself can also be a factor in acquiring a restless sleeping pattern, escalating the whole issue into a vicious circle.
Another long-term effect of sleep deprivation is weight gain. The reason for this is partly behavioural; as if you get home after a long day’s work or play feeling more exhausted due to missed sleep, you’ll be less likely to cook something healthy from scratch or pop on those running shoes. Another reason? The hormone leptin plays a vital part in making you feel full. A lack of sleep causes a dip in this hormone, making you more ravenous.
Research also demonstrates that sleep can help to strengthen the immune system, which is responsible for the common cold. Another reason to count those all-important sheep.
How can you treat sleep deprivation?
Catching up on sleep is the only answer. After a long period of limited sleep, it may take several weeks to improve sleep quantity and quality. Begin by going to bed when you’re tired and sleep an extra hour or two every night. For best results, try this at the weekend or when you are not expected to wake at a certain time. Don’t set an alarm and allow your body to wake up naturally. Whilst you may sleep for very long periods at first, this will steadily decrease to more average sleeping patterns.
We’ve got some handy products that might just help you to doze off when you really need to, check out our range of sleep aids.