Are you suffering from sleep deprivation? If you’ve been forced to get by with less sleep recently, there’s a good chance you are.
All too often, sleep is pushed to the bottom of the to-do list in favor of responsibilities at home, work and elsewhere. Even if you feel you’re coping, you may be showing signs of sleep deprivation that you just haven’t learned to recognize yet.
Read on to learn about the importance of sleep, causes of sleep deprivation and the dangerous and wide reaching effects of sleep deprivation on the body.
The importance of getting enough sleep
Through the process of sleeping, the body is able to repair itself and rebuild the energy that is required to carry out all of the body’s essential functions.
Proper sleep, which is anywhere from seven to ten hours of sleep per day depending on your specific needs and stage of life, is essential for providing the body with a much-needed break. When we skip out on good sleep, we suffer in many different ways.
Lack of sleep is quite common among adults in many western nations. Unfortunately, this bad habit is linked to numerous, and sometimes serious, negative health effects such as weight gain and depression to name just two.
While lack of sleep affects each person differently, one thing remains true: getting a good night’s sleep can greatly improve not only your long-term health, but also your present mood and outlook on life.
Causes of sleep deprivation
While people differ in terms of what may keep them up tossing and turning at night, there are some common themes among those who have the hardest time falling, or staying, asleep. The biggest reasons for lack of sleep usually fall into two categories: physical pain and psychological disruptions, including feelings of anxiety and worry.
Here are some of the most common reasons for sleep deprivation:
- Discomfort – this could be due to sleeping in a position that is not right for your body
- Disruption – a pet, child or partner moving or making noise may interrupt your sleep
- Alcohol – this acts as a sedative when you first fall asleep, but tends to wake you up after a few hours, throwing off the natural sleep cycle rhythm
- The effects of certain medication or supplements
- Consuming caffeine too late in the day
- Muscle pain
- Heart burn and acid reflux
- Worrying and anxiety
Seven signs you aren’t getting enough sleep and related heal impacts
1. Weight gain
When we do not get proper sleep, the hormones that are responsible for giving us our internal cues for hunger and fullness (satiety) become thrown off. This leads many people to crave foods high in sugar, carbohydrates and calories when they are tired, because this is the body’s natural way of obtaining more energy in the form of quick-acting glucose (i.e., sugar which is used by the body as fuel).
Without the regulation of our normal hormonal signals telling us when we are truly in need of more calories and when we should stop eating, many people are prone to overeating or choosing less healthy options when presented with different choices.
Some studies also show that a lack of sleep can render the body less able to process sugar in the blood effectively, meaning you become less sensitive to the important role of insulin (which enables the body to remove sugar or glucose from the blood) and are therefore at an increased risk for developing diabetes.
2. Poor concentration and memory
When we are tired, it becomes more difficult to learn, retain information, pay attention, stay alert and problem-solve.
This is due to the impact of sleep hormones on the center of our brain that is responsible for cognitive processing.
This can result in poor performance at work, losing important items, or feeling generally scatter- brained throughout the day, all of which can cause more anxiety and make sleep even more difficult.
People who do not sleep enough are more prone to being involved in accidents and experiencing self-induced injuries, which is especially dangerous when driving a car or performing tasks such as cooking or biking.
4. Frequently becoming sick
Immunity is impaired when our bodies do not get enough rest. This means we are more susceptible to common illnesses such as colds, the flu, and other viruses.
This can mean more time spent away from work or social events, which only adds to feelings of sadness, stress and anxiety, therefore further increasing difficulty sleeping well at night.
5. Increasing risk of developing serious chronic conditions
Lack of sleep puts us at risk for many chronic conditions because it takes a significant toll on the body.
For example, individuals who do not get enough sleep are also more prone to skeletal damage and osteoporosis due to the weakening of the bones.
6. Moodiness, unhappiness and being overly emotional
Sleep deprivation and mood disorders, including depression and anxiety, are very closely related.
In fact, people who suffer from insomnia are believed to be five times more likely to suffer from depression.
Even if your lack of sleep doesn’t result in a serious mental condition, you will likely find that you’re overly sensitive, and more prone to overreacting when you become upsets.
7. Low libido/sex drive
A decrease in energy and mood usually means less libido and desire to be intimate.
Think of it this way- if you only have enough energy to get a certain amount of things done each day, you will likely use what energy you do have for completing obligatory tasks and chores, as opposed to spending quality time with your partner.
How to get more sleep
- Try sleeping in a comfortable position that can ease symptoms such as pain or snoring. While doctors recommend sleeping on the back for most people, you may want to try different positions based on your specific needs. Sleeping in a different position can sometimes help to relieve some of the common complaints associated with difficulty sleeping. In addition, avoid overcrowding your bed with children or pets whenever possible, which can keep you up tossing and turning.
- Keep your bedroom very dark or consider wearing an eye mask. Also try listening to “white nose”, a fan or other type of soft sound, perhaps using a sound machine.
- Practice relaxation techniques prior to bed time, including deep breathing, meditation, reading, and/or writing in a journal. Warm baths or showers also help many people to relax their body prior to falling asleep, but anything that promotes calmness and serenity is a worthwhile habit to develop.
- Turn off all electronics one hour or more before bed time. The lights from TVs, computers, iPads and smartphones can keep us feeling alert and make it more difficult to sleep well.
- Exercise and eat a healthy diet. Keeping your weight in check lowers your chances of developing sleep apnea and muscle soreness or stiffness. Exercising is a great way to help maintain a healthy weight and can alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression, which can keep you up at night with your mind racing.
- Stay away from caffeinated drinks after noon, or consider cutting them out altogether. Caffeine can remain in the body for an extended period of time and may be impacting your sleep.
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects that your medications or supplements may be exerting. Perhaps a different dose or type may be available that can alleviate the problem.
While sleep deprivation is a serious problem and can have detrimental effects on the body, there are many useful techniques which can provide a better night’s sleep.
If sleeping through the night for a full seven to ten hours is difficult for you, consider making some lifestyle changes that can ultimately benefit your health in significant and long-term ways.