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Sleep Deprivation – Overcoming the lack of sleep

Sleep deprivation is one of the most common consequences of modern life. Be it trying to impress the boss working long hours, trying to get top rank by studying all night, partying, stressing out or even binge-watching Netflix, people are experiencing a lack of sleep on an alarming level. India is one of the most sleep-deprived nations in the world. From the data collected from the brand Fitbit, it was found that Indians sleep 6:55 hours or less. While the self-imposed curtailment of sleep is worn as a badge of honour, it is in fact quite dangerous. So, let’s begin from the very start. 

Sleep deprivation image

What is sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is the term allotted to the inability to fall asleep and sleep well. In different stages of your life, the sleep requirements needed for the body and mind to function optimally also differs. The inability to hit the required hours of sleep is what constitutes sleep deprivation. 

How long should one sleep?

There are certain parameters of sleep requirement based on the age of a person. Here’s the ideal amount of sleep you need to get for your age. 

Newborns and infants

Toddlers

Preschoolers

School-aged children

Teenagers

Adults

Older adults

14-17 hours

11-14 hours

10-13 hours

9-13 hours

8-10 hours

7-9 hours

7-8 hours

“Sleep is necessary for us to function at our best, and if we do not get adequate quantity and quality of sleep, our performance and our functioning is not going to be satisfactory. If we don’t get adequate sleep, our mood is going to be more depressed, we’re not going to be as sharp cognitively, our thinking is not going to be as alert”

Sleep Specialist, Dr. William Kohler, medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute

Read Next: You may be interested to read about sleeping fast. Here’s our tips and tricks on how to sleep fast.

What are the symptoms of sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is an easily identifiable condition, given how it can impact your body and mind. Some of the most common sleep deprivation symptoms are drowsiness, dark circles, irritability, moodiness, weight gain, and lethargy. But don’t be fooled! Sleep deprivation can manifest itself in many ways. It can also be in high-stress levels, high levels of anxiety and weariness. The health problems caused by sleep deprivation is quite a list. 

While these are all symptoms of sleep deprivation, let’s take a gander at the effects of sleep deprivation. It is a known fact that sleep is an important part of the optimal functioning of our bodies. However, recent studies have also shown the effects of sleep on our mind. 

Sleep deprivation in woman

Effects of sleep deprivation

Memory loss

While our bodies sleep, our brain is busy processing information. Studies have shown that while sleeping, our brains work at consolidation and the formation of long-term memory. Both the states of sleep and wakefulness play an integral role in memory formation. For those processes that do not need an external stimulus, sleep is a critical function in creating and retaining memories. Therefore, when your body doesn’t sleep, your brain skips the function of creating memories, resulting in impaired memory retention and memory loss. 

Impaired cognitive performance

With lack of sleep, your mind loses its ability to focus and remember leading a lowered cognitive performance. Your reaction time reduces with lack of sleep which is why you should never be behind the wheel when you are sleep deprived. A well-rested mind also fosters creativity and leads to developing new ideas. 

Increased stress

The relationship between stress and sleep is a cyclic one. When you are too stressed, it keeps you up at night. When you don’t sleep well at night, your body increases the production of the stress hormone. There isn’t one without the other. Sleep deprivation due to stress is a very well-known phenomenon, but did you know about the other way around?

stress causes sleep deprivation

Depression and mental illness

Studies have shown that 65%-90% of adults who are depressed and 90% of children who go through depression experience sleep issues. It was also found that those people who reported insomnia were four times more likely to develop depression. This tells us that the connection between sleeplessness and depression 

Increased risk of heart disease

While we sleep, our blood pressure tends to go down. Without sleep, the blood pressure stays high longer. Lack of sleep also contributes to obesity, which is linked to heart disease. Higher levels of stress is also a cause for heart diseases. 

Increased risk of diabetes

Lack of sleep affects the blood glucose levels in the body putting you at risk of developing diabetes. Those already suffering from diabetes suffers from sleep deprivation, aggravating their existing condition. Those who don’t sleep well increase their insulin resistance, increasing the chances of developing diabetes. 

Premature aging

For those who would like to look young forever, here’s some bad news. If you aren’t sleeping well at night, you might as well kiss that notion away. Sleep leads to premature aging including the reduced elasticity of the skin, uneven pigmentation and appearance of fine lines. Beauty sleep is not a myth made by fairy tales. The truth is mentioned in our myths so well. 

Weight gain

Sleep is an important process of regulating the hormones in our body. If you don’t get enough sleep, the energy regulating hormone leptin decreases, telling the brain that your body needs more energy. Lack of sleep also increases the hunger hormone, ghrelin, telling the body that it is hungry. Thus, due to lack of sleep, you eat more and end up gaining weight. 

 weight gain

Apart from these grave effects of sleep deprivation, it can also be seen increased lethargy, digestive issues, hallucinations and a weakened immune system. As we have observed, the effects of sleep deprivation are witnessed not only in the body but also in the mind. In fact, it impacts every part of the body. Yet, people are proud when they say they haven’t slept all night. This means there is a lack of information dispersed to the public about the impact of sleep deprivation. 

How to overcome sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation, though appears to be a grave condition is, in fact, quite easy to overcome. It takes conscious steps taken toward improving sleep hygiene and putting to rest behaviours that might be impacting your sleep. Here’s how you can overcome sleep deprivation. 

Regular Exercise 

You might be tired of hearing this but you may not have known the full benefits of exercise. Not only does regular exercise keep you fit, but it also helps you sleep at night. Being physically active is not part of the sedentary lifestyle we have grown accustomed to. However, tiring out your body during the day, be it an hour in the gym, 30 minutes in the squash court or the mandatory 10,000 steps you are supposed to take, will help you feel sleepy at the end of the day. However, it is important that you exercise in the morning or early evening. Late night exercises are never a good idea for sleep, even though a nearly empty gym might be tempting. 

Get a white noise machine 

Sometimes you need to ask your mind to quieten down and focus on nothingness. It is a nearly impossible task considering how much you are expected to do in a day. A white noise machine can help distract your mind from the clutter of thoughts and help you relax. It is very interesting to know how white noise machines work. Our bodies have evolved to be on alert mode when we hear a noise. That is our body’s way of protecting ourselves. However, even if your city never sleeps, you need to. A white noise machine blurs all the noise into one static noise helping you relax. While technology isn’t too great for your sleep, you might want to identify what helps and what doesn’t. 

Establish a sleep ritual 

A relaxing sleep ritual is an important element in your sleep hygiene. While there are different things that relaxes a person, some of the most common sleep rituals are a warm bath, a warm cup of chamomile tea, a dark bedroom, guided meditation and slow, soothing music. You may also be interested to try essential oils like lavender that can help relax your mind. Creating your own set of sleep habits a personal decision. It is about what relaxes you. Some may not want a warm shower at night, some may not like drinking tea at night. It is all about finding what relaxes you. 

Cut out screens

While this may seem like an impossible task, you might want to reduce your consumption of screen time at night. The blue light from our mobile phones or television sets can send your brain on active mode. So while you may think you are trying to relax faster by browsing on social media or watching your favourite series, you are adversely impacting your ability to sleep faster. The best thing to do is to remove all electronics from your room come bedtime to remove temptation. 

Blue light causes sleep deprivation

Napping 

Naps, though not the solution for long term sleep health, is an effective way to neuter the effects of sleep deprivation. Usually lasting 15-30 minutes, these naps can help bring back the body to the level of alertness you have when you sleep well all night. We are increasingly living in a 24/7 world where you are expected to give up on sleep to be effective. Napping can help relieve some mental fatigue. However, this is not a long term solution compared to sleeping those eight hours at night.

Dinner Schedule 

It is important not to have a heavy dinner late at night. The ideal time is either 2-3 hours before you hop into bed. You don’t want to send your body into the digestive mode, working hard at breaking down the food into energy. What you need to have is your body in a relaxed mode. You also need to watch what you eat. Heavy carbs, caffeine, sugary foods can undermine your sleep. Spicy foods can cause heartburn and indigestion. Those who are prone to gas should avoid gas-inducing foods as well. 

Night lights

Rethink your mattress

Often, the culprit to your sleep deprived state is your mattress. An uncomfortable mattress can lead you to be tossing and turning all night, leading to a medical problem you cannot control. While you may think a soft, plush mattress is what you want, it may not be as comfortable as it looks. You should consider a medium-firm mattress which not only helps you sleep better, but also supports your body and reduces the impact on your pressure points. A medium firm mattress is also better for your back and can reduce the effects of back pain at night. 

See a sleep specialist 

You should never be embarrassed about asking for help. A sleep-deprived state can be due to many physiological and psychological factors. However, it can also be due to one of many sleep disorders. Sleep apnea is one such common sleep disorder that can cause you to wake up frequently. Other sleep disorders include narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, sleepwalking, night terrors and insomnia. These disorders may be contributing to the disruption in your sleep pattern, thus impacting your quality of life. 

Read Next: To know more about insomnia and ways to get over it, check out our post on insomnia.

See your therapist 

A stress-induced state can be caused by many things in our lives, often beyond our control. While you may not want to talk about your problems with friends or family, you can consider meeting a therapist. Therapists provide a non-judgmental insight into your behaviour, guiding you to overcome your problems through inner strength. Therapists have become a necessity in our modern, anxiety filled lives. While you are able to unload your problems to a trained ear, you can also end up sleeping peacefully all night. 

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