The occasional sleepless night is considered the norm for most people. According to a recent survey, 70% of adults in the U.S. have at least one restless night of sleep per month, with 11% struggling to get sufficient shut-eye every night.
The common symptoms associated with intermittent sleepless nights are inconvenient and unpleasant – with grogginess and poor mood being two of the most commonly reported symptoms.
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But if left untreated, chronic sleep deprivation can have more serious consequences that can impact everything from work performance to memory and even make us more susceptible to illness in the long run.
Here’s a look at why sleep deprivation occurs, the worst effects of sleep deprivation and how to get better sleep.
What Causes Sleep Deprivation?
Sleep deprivation occurs when a person does not get an adequate 7-9 hours of sleep per night for a prolonged period of time. Several factors can throw off our sleep patterns and cause us to lie awake at night, from stress at work to anxiety issues or pre-bedtime habits that contribute to poor sleep quality.
Certain sleep disorders may also cause sleep deprivation. Some sleep disorders that can lead to sleep deprivation include:
Insomnia – One of the most common sleep disorders, insomnia is defined as persistent trouble falling and staying asleep. Symptoms can include waking up in the middle of the night, waking up too early, worrying about being able to fall asleep and daytime fatigue.
Circadian rhythm disorders – These sleep disorders occur when our environment does not match up with our body’s circadian rhythm, which cues us to be awake when it’s light out and sleep when it’s dark. People who work night shifts or report to work when it’s still dark out may suffer more commonly from this disorder.
Obstructive sleep apnea – The most common breathing sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when a person’s breathing passageway becomes compromised during sleep due to a blockage. This disorder results in interrupted sleep, as a person with obstructive sleep disorder generally awakes many times per night when they are unable to breathe.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
So many components of our body require that we get an adequate amount of sleep per night regularly. When we don’t, our body fails to function mentally, physically and emotionally. Here are the worst effects of sleep deprivation.
Memory issues: Think back to when you’d pull an all-nighter in high school or college before a big test. Chances are that you were able to pass your exam – but could you recall anything you’d learned during that period a week or even months later? To retain information learned during waking hours, the brain needs adequate sleep to process and remember it. Sleeping 7-9 hours each night has been proven to improve memory by 20-40 percent.
Weight gain: Being chronically sleep deprived means you’re more likely to lack the energy necessary to work out consistently – which is one way sleep deprivation contributes to unwanted weight gain. The other way sleep deprivation contributes to gaining weight has to do with the hormone levels of leptin and ghrelin that are impacted by lack of sleep.
During a meal, leptin signals to our brains that our body is satiated. Lack of adequate sleep causes the body to make less leptin and more ghrelin, which increases appetite. People who are sleep deprived may find they feel hungrier at night, which is due to the imbalance of these hormones.
Low sex drive: sleep deprivation also impacts libido. When we don’t get enough sleep, hormones like testosterone cannot be produced in the body. Testosterone production happens during our body’s deepest sleep cycle, called REM sleep. If you’re constantly waking up in the middle of the night or are a chronically light sleeper, this will decrease testosterone production in the body. While this hormone is typically associated with the male sex drive, a lack of testosterone in the female body will also lower libido.
More errors and accidents: Sleep is essential to keep your body’s central nervous system running efficiently. Sleep deprivation causes disruptions to the way the body typically processes information. This can result in small-scale issues like frequent mistakes at work. More seriously, lower reaction and processing time due to sleep deprivation can even be life or death. For example, people who get six hours of sleep or less per night are three times as likely to be in a car accident.
Depression and negative mood shifts: Not getting enough rest can make a person more irritable and moody – but over time, sleep deprivation can lead to more severe depressive episodes. Depression and anxiety rates are significantly higher in those who do not get adequate sleep regularly.
How to Avoid Sleep Deprivation
The best way to avoid sleep deprivation is to get the recommended 7-9 hours per sleep each and every night. This is easier said than done for many who suffer from sleep issues. Here are a few tips to consider if you find yourself constantly tossing and turning at night.
Stick to a schedule: Though it may be tempting to sleep in during the weekends, adhering to a sleep schedule where you go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning helps get your body into a healthy sleep routine.
Avoid screen time before bed: At least two hours before bed, do your best to limit screen time since the light that emulates from electronic devices can disrupt circadian rhythm.
Partake in relaxing pre-bedtime activities: Take some time to meditate, listen to music or take a long bath or shower before bedtime to wind down.
Avoid napping: Even if you had a sleepless night, pushing past the desire to nap will help you sleep through the night rather than resulting in another restless evening.
Not getting an adequate amount of sleep each night can have a significantly detrimental impact on our overall health and well-being over time. If getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night is consistently challenging, it’s worthwhile to evaluate your bedtime routine and daily habits to see what might be contributing to your sleep deficiency.