Throughout our lives, doctors and lifestyle articles remind us of the importance of sleep. If you’re not sleeping enough or not sleeping well, it may be affecting your health, performance, safety and pocketbook.
In fact, one in five American adults are sleep deprived. While there is no one “right” amount to sleep, six is the minimum. Anything less, and you’re probably sleep deprived.
What can cause sleep deprivation
There are many causes of sleep deprivation. Figuring out which one(s) are keeping you from your Z’s is the key to fixing the problem.
- Late Bedtimes: One of the most common reasons people don’t get enough sleep is because they don’t go to bed early enough. Try adjusting your bedtime to allow yourself to get more sleep.
- Stress: Lots of things stress us out. People seem to think about the most stressful parts of their day right before they go to sleep. If you think your child or teen is sleep deprived, a cause may be bullying that is leading to stress.
- Environmental factors: If you feel sleep deprived but aren’t sure why, take a look at your sleep environment. Does your partner snore? Do you have pets that toss and turn through the night? Do you have a television in your bedroom? Is the temperature comfortable? While these issues have simple fixes to help you get more Z’s, you may not immediately realize that they are an issue.
- Diet: Excessive caffeine is a major culprit for those who aren’t getting enough sleep. You may also find it difficult to sleep if you drink too much alcohol. Heartburn is another reason some people find themselves unable to fall asleep on time.
- Pain: If you have a chronic condition that results in pain, you may have trouble falling asleep.
Symptoms of sleep deprivation
Maybe you sleep plenty, but you think your child, teen or spouse may be suffering from sleep deprivation. There are some symptoms of sleep deprivation that you may use to identify a problem, but you’ll also want to have your loved one speak to a health care professional because many of these symptoms can be signs of other issues.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Extra hunger
- Regular colds
- Emotional issues or moodiness
- Excessive clumsiness
Stages of sleep deprivation
There are several sleep deprivation stages. Initially, you may just feel slightly tired when you wake up in the morning. After you’re out of bed for a few minutes, you feel fine. However, you may already be experiencing a loss in focus.
If your sleep doesn’t improve, you’ll wake up on schedule. However, you may find it difficult to get out of bed. It may take you longer to get ready in the morning, but you ultimately find yourself out the door.
Eventually, you may start to press the “snooze” button when your alarm goes off. You’ll end up rushing out the door, possibly even late to work. Tardiness can lead your boss to question whether or not you are a capable employee.
Finally, you’ll feel sluggish and find it difficult to concentrate. However, you may not immediately recognize that this is an issue from not sleeping enough and instead pass it off as something else.
There are many effects of sleep deprivation in the short-term and long-term. Even one night of bad sleep can cause decreased performance and alertness, memory impairment, occupational injury or automobile injury. Multiple nights of bad sleep can lead to a poor quality of life and add stress to your relationships.
If you’re not getting enough sleep for a long period of time, you may be more susceptible to high blood pressure, heart problems, stroke, obesity, psychiatric problems, Attention Deficit Disorder, mental impairment, childhood growth retardation and injuries. All of these effects are discussed in more detail below.
- Decreased Performance and Alertness: If you reduce your nighttime sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for one night, you could be 32% less alert the next day (WebMd.com). This lack of alertness can lead to accidents. It may also be costing you a raise or promotion at work. Not to mention that your boss won’t appreciate it if you fall asleep during an important meeting.
- Memory Impairment: Decreased alertness leads to an impaired memory. Sleep deprivation can also affect your ability to think and process information. This, too, can be costing you money at work. If your boss has to remind you of an assignment several times, he or she may feel you’re incompetent.
- Occupational Injury: Besides affecting how your boss may see you, sleepiness can make you two times more likely to sustain an occupational injury. Sleep deprivation affects your reaction time, making you more prone to accidents.
- Automobile Injury: Each year, estimates show that at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities are caused by drowsy driving (NHTSA).
- Poor Quality of Life: You may find yourself unable to concentrate during daily activities like going to a sports event, paying attention during a lunch with friends or playing a board game with your children.
- Relationship issues: Sleepiness may cause you to feel irritable, which may affect your relationships with your children, spouse, friends and extended family members. In addition, your sleep disorder may disrupt your partner’s sleep. This can cause other issues in the relationship like separate bedrooms and irritability.
- High Blood Pressure: Sleep produces hormones that help regulate stress and keep your nervous system healthy. Over time, lack of sleep can damage your body’s ability to regulate stress hormones.
- Heart Attack/Heart Failure: Again, sleep helps regulate the hormones that keep the heart healthy. Poor sleepers are also more likely to be obese, so that is another contributing factor.
- Stroke: Again, your body needs to sleep in order to regulate the hormones that lead to a healthy brain. Without these hormones, it may cause a stroke.
- Obesity: When you’re not getting enough sleep, your body may encourage you to look for other sources of fuel like food. This may cause you to overeat, leading to weight gain. You may also not have the energy to exercise adequately.
- Psychiatric Problems: Sleep deprivation can also make depression worse. Lack of sleep is a sign that you might already be depressed. Not having the motivation to participate in normal activities or exercise may result in feeling depressed.
- ADD: Lack of sleep can cause difficulty in concentration. Over time, a brain (especially a developing one) may not be able to develop a normal ability to focus.
- Childhood Growth Retardation: Sleep is vital to healthy growth. During sleep, the body produces hormones that promote growth and repair any damage.
- Additional Injuries: Besides potential injuries sustained at work or while driving, you may also get injured doing regular daily activities. For example, you could cut or burn yourself while preparing food. You may leave an item cooking for too long and start a fire.
Getting more sleep
When you realize you have a sleeping issue, the most obvious solution seems to be going to bed earlier. However, a late bedtime is not the only cause of sleep deprivation. Once you’ve figured out what causes your lack of sleep, you can address those issues.
- Late bedtime: If you’re simply a victim of staying up too late, try going to bed around 7.5 hours before your required wake-up time. If you wake up 5 minutes before your alarm or feel refreshed when it goes off, you’ve found your sweet spot. If not, you may need more sleep.
- Stress: We can’t always reduce the stress in our lives – but if you can rid yourself of a stressful situation, do it. If talking to your in-laws before bed keeps you up at night, find another time to talk to them.
For problems you can’t schedule away from bedtime, try making time for stress management techniques. Start taking yoga or pick up a meditation practice.
- Environmental factors: Most environmental factors are fairly easy to fix – the problem is that you may not realize that these things are keeping you awake. If your partner snores, try helping them address this issue. Have them see a doctor about it or try out nasal strips. If it’s too hot in your room, use a fan. If a pet tosses and turns, you may need to shut it out of the bedroom. Removing electronics like televisions from the bedroom can also be a helpful step in getting more sleep. Even if the TV is off when you try to go to sleep, it may still be keeping you awake.
- Diet: Again, diet factors are usually a simple fix too. We just don’t realize that they are a problem. If you think you’re taking in too much caffeine, cut yourself off from soda and coffee after 2 or 3PM. Limit your alcohol intake to the weekends or one glass of wine with dinner instead of two. If you seem to have issues with heartburn, adjust your diet and consult your doctor about medication.
- Pain: While common, many people feel that they have to suffer through their discomfort, even if it means giving up a good night’s rest. If you think pain from a medical condition or injury is keeping you up at night, consult your doctor. He or she may be able to help you address your sleep concern or pain concern.