What is Sleep Deprivation?
Not being able to fall asleep can be very frustrating. It happens to all of us. It could be because we had caffeine too close to bedtime or we are anxious or excited about something. Not being able to sleep or stay asleep throughout the night is called insomnia. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can affect anyone but if you have chronic insomnia you may want to talk to your doctor about it.
What counts as chronic insomnia? If you have difficulty falling asleep for a few days or weeks due to any stressors or major life transitions then it is acute insomnia but if this happens more than three nights a week for three months or more then it becomes chronic insomnia. And chronic insomnia can wreak havoc on all of our body’s systems.
Common Causes of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation can have many causes. It could just be that your work routine does not support you being able to get adequate sleep hours especially if your field of work requires you to be available at all hours. On the other hand, if you have a big project or exams coming up you may be sleeping less to be able to get more work done.
Parents of newborns are usually coping with sleep deprivation among other things. But sleep disturbances are becoming more common. Perhaps this could be because people are increasingly using their smartphones before sleeping. While a lot of phones now have night mode to reduce the blue glare of the screen which signals the mind to stay awake, using our phones still gives our brains a lot of information to process and it does not relax the way it would if you read a book at nighttime.
There are several medical issues also which directly impact sleep. The obvious culprits are sleep disorders but sleep disturbances also usually come with chronic fatigue, chronic pain or mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder etc.
Here is a list of the most common sleep disorders:➛ Obstructive sleep apnea
➛ Restless leg syndrome
➛ Circadian rhythm disorders
These have to be diagnosed by a healthcare professional who may need to conduct a sleep study.
Signs of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation signs are quite easy to spot in yourself but also in others. If someone looks excessively sleepy, is yawning, or seems visibly tired then it is likely that they did not get a good night’s rest.
One of the biggest giveaways is irritability or outbursts of anger. This can also be compounded by the high caffeine intake that usually follows the next day. Combination of fatigue and caffeine does not do wonders for your patience.
Sleep deprivation may also cause mood changes. This is especially true if you have a mood disorder like bipolar. Not getting enough sleep and taking a lot of caffeine and sugar can lead to a manic episode.
While we sleep our brain works on our memories and strengthens them, so if we don’t sleep well or much then we usually have trouble focusing and remembering things.
How Sleep Deprivation can Affect Immune System
While we sleep our body focuses on healing and bringing everything back into order. Our immune system produces substances like antibodies and cytokines. These are the body's defense against any bacteria or viruses.
Sleep deprivation throws this out of balance and our body is not able to build up its protective forces. This means that not only are we more likely to get ill if we sleep less but it would also take us longer to recover if we do fall ill.
How Sleep Deprivation can Affect Respiratory System
A lot of respiratory issues can cause difficulty with sleep, for instance, if your airways aren’t fully open it can cause you to keep waking up. Vice versa, sleep deprivation can make us more prone to get respiratory infections like the flu or common cold. And as discussed above it can make already existing respiratory illnesses worse.
Sleep apnea is a nighttime breathing disorder. This is a potentially serious disorder in which our breathing stops and starts repeatedly while we sleep. One of the more common types of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which is caused by throat muscles relaxing. There are machines which help manage this disorder.
How Sleep Deprivation can Affect Digestive System
If we don’t get enough sleep it can also increase the risk of becoming overweight. Being overweight then increases the burden on our other organs like liver, heart, and pancreas. Sleep particularly affects two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, which impact our feelings of hunger and satiety. Our sleep deprived brain reduces leptin and increases the level of ghrelin which increases our appetite. This can lead to overeating or late night snacking. It also causes our body to release less insulin after eating which can increase blood sugar level.
The fatigue that comes with sleep deprivation also does not help us with exercising. Reduced physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle are very common causes of diseases nowadays.
A combination of both overeating and less movement significantly increases the risk of developing insulin resistance which can lead to diabetes.
How Sleep Deprivation can Affect Cardiovascular System
Sleep is incredibly important for our heart and blood vessels as it affects our body’s healing process and also other regulatory processes such as blood sugar, blood pressure and inflammation levels.
Not getting enough sleep can also lead to increased stress which puts more pressure on our cardiovascular system and increases risk of heart attack and stroke.
Another function that gets disturbed by sleep deprivation and one that impacts everything is the growth hormone production which is important particularly for children and adolescents. This hormone is involved in repairing cells and tissues as well as building muscle mass etc.
How to Prevent Sleep Deprivation
There are many ways to improve your sleep quality. Some like weighted blankets require a little investment whereas having a fixed sleep schedule or avoiding caffeine past noon or at least after 6pm cost you nothing.
Most adults require at least 7 hours of healthy sleep each night. Let’s look at the essentials for better sleep and some things you can try at home to help prevent sleep deprivation:➛Taking shorter naps (if any) of 20 to 30 minutes in the day time.
➛Avoiding screens a couple of hours before sleeping and instead engaging in gentle relaxing activities like reading, journaling, bedtime yoga or even a massage should help.
➛Eating around three hours before going to sleep is healthier.
➛Exercising regularly helps but doing it too close to bedtime can actually make it harder to sleep.
➛While nightcaps might help you sleep, consuming alcohol actually makes it harder to have healthy sleep regularly.
If your inability to sleep peacefully is causing a lot of discomfort or disturbance in your life it would be a good idea to see a doctor. They can give you attention needed on an individual basis and check for any underlying health issues that might be leading to sleep disturbances and deprivation.
Massage Can Help Sleep Better
If you have trouble sleeping because of high stress or muscle pain then regular massages can benefit you and improve sleep quality. If you cannot afford to get a professional massage regularly or just want one at any time you wish then you can consider investing in massagers like the percussion massager or even a foot massager for those who stand on their feet for long periods during the day.
If that is also not affordable try asking your partner for a quick massage especially if you have certain areas with knotted muscles like the neck or shoulders. Just ten minutes can do wonders.