Sleep deprivation is defined as a condition wherein individuals get less sleep than what is necessary to feel awake, alert, and focused during the day. Almost everyone has had a bad night’s sleep at some point in their lives, but 1 in 3 Americans reportedly do not get enough sleep on a regular basis.
This indicates that sleep deprivation is, in fact, a serious issue. It’s affecting millions of Americans each year, bringing about a variety of consequences related to health and general well-being. This issue must be addressed. Why? Because sleep is one of our most important natural functions, resetting our biological clocks and allowing us to recover from the stressors of the day before.
What Causes Sleep Deprivation?
There are many different causes of sleep deprivation, and causes may vary significantly from person to person. Here are some of the most frequently reported instigators of this sleep-depriving ailment:
- Sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea
- Unrelated medical issues or chronic health conditions
- Poor sleep or night time habits
And while there is no succinct cause of sleep deprivation, some demographics may be more likely to experience sleep deprivation than others. These demographics most notably include new parents, students, and teenagers, who reportedly regularly receive less than the 8 to 10 hours recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.
Let’s take a look at some of the primary causes of sleep deprivation in order to better understand how this sleep-impairing ailment can take root in an individual’s life.
Sleep Disorders Causing Sleep Deprivation
Insomnia reportedly affects 30-40% of adults every year, with 10-15% of adults experiencing chronic or ongoing insomnia. But what does insomnia have to do with sleep deprivation? Well, insomnia literally translates from Latin, meaning “no sleep.” It can also make it difficult to stay asleep after falling asleep, leading to feelings of lethargy and restlessness during the day.
Sleep apnea, another frequently reported sleep disorder, affects the way an individual breathes during sleep. In fact, sufferers of sleep apnea have been observed to stop breathing for as much as 10 seconds at a time during sleep. Symptoms of sleep apnea include sleeplessness, chronic snoring, difficulties with learning or memory, and falling asleep randomly throughout the day.
Medical Issues Causing Sleep Deprivation
Various mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, have been known to cause or at least contribute to sleep deprivation. Chronic health conditions that induce significant pain may also make it more difficult or even impossible to fall asleep. In some cases, lack of sleep can worsen these conditions.
Poor Night Time Habits Causing Sleep Deprivation
There are a variety of evening habits that contribute to poor sleep and therefore sleep deprivation:
- Eating Dinner Too Late: The body naturally attempts to digest food while you sit upright, not curled into bed. Going to bed with a full stomach can make you up to 7 times more likely to suffer from uncomfortable issues like acid reflux or heartburn that can keep you awake.
- Watching TV in Bed: We tend to think that watching TV in bed can actually help lull us to sleep, eliminating white noise. However, the blue light emitted from television screens can disrupt the body’s natural melatonin production, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Sleep With Your Smartphone: Phones, laptops, and tablets bring about the same blue light-emitting properties as TVs, hindering melatonin production. Additionally, however, these devices allow us to check our email, scan social media platforms, or read articles before bed. This can potentially induce stress, which is detrimental to restful sleep.
- Sugary Midnight Snacks: While eating late can hinder sleep, what you eat is just as important. Refined sugars can take a great toll on your sleep, leading to mid-sleep awakening and restless mornings.
- Tossing & Turning in Bed: If you cannot fall asleep within 20 minutes of getting into bed, it’s actually recommended that you get up and practice relaxation exercises, including breathing exercises, stretching, or leaving the bedroom for a few minutes. Tossing and turning in bed does not help induce sleep and can actually detriment your sleep cycles once you fall asleep.
What Are the Effects of Sleep Deprivation?
Aside from making you feel tired, sleep deprivation can have many negative short-term and long-term effects on a person’s health and happiness. Some of the most prominent short-term effects include:
- The inability to concentrate
- Poor decision-making
In addition to short-term mood deficits, sleep deprivation can bring about various long-term consequences to your health. These include:
- A weakened immune system
- The increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- The increased risk of untimely, unexpected death
While sleep deprivation may sound like a simple sleep disorder, it can actually become much more serious over time. Rest is essential to our the health of our minds and bodies, and ongoing nights of poor or nonexistent sleep can bring about some potentially dangerous ramifications.
It’s important to not only become aware of what sleep deprivation looks like, but to know what it feels like. So what are some of the most prominent symptoms of sleep deprivation?
- Feeling overly tired or sleepy during the day
- General forgetfulness
- General moodiness
- Increased appetite
Avoiding Sleep Deprivation in Your Life
There are some small steps you can take to prevent or overcome sleep deprivation. What’s most important? Maintaining healthy sleep habits, which can be achieved by going to bed and waking up at the same times each night or day, respectively. This allows your body to set an internal sleep schedule, helping you to know when it’s time to go to bed.
What else can you do to avoid sleep deprivation in your life?
- Prep your room, using things like air purifiers, naturally-scented candles, or dimmer lamps that are conducive to sleep
- Set a bedtime routine and go through the motions every night before you get into bed
- Exercise during the day, tiring your body and mind when it’s time to go to sleep
- Take natural sleep aids, such as essential oils, melatonin supplements, or CBD oils
- Avoid blue light from TV screens, cell phones, and other devices for up to 2-3 hours before bedtime
- Employ relaxation techniques before bed, such as light stretching or yoga, meditation, journaling, reading, or taking a bath