Sleep Deprivation: It’s About More Than Being Tired
January 12, 2022
At some point, nearly all of us have experienced the overwhelming sleepiness that comes from getting little to no sleep. It can make it difficult to do what you have to throughout the day and can make you irritable.
Sleep deprivation occurs when a person does not get the amount of sleep they need, and it affects about one-third of adults in the United States. Adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, and when that doesn’t happen regularly, the results can be tragic.
What Causes Sleep Deprivation?
A person can become sleep deprived due to a variety of factors such as personal behaviors, everyday duties, and sleep disorders.
Sleep deprivation may occur when a person does not have enough time allocated due to personal behaviors such as bedtime procrastination. Delaying bedtime can make it difficult for a person to get the amount of sleep they need.
Everyday duties can also make it difficult for a person to get enough sleep. For example, parents with young kids can have a hard time getting the sleep they need due to the demands of their children. Work obligations can also make it difficult to get seven to nine hours of sleep, especially for people who work multiple jobs, have extended hours, or work the night shift.
Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia can also cause sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea creates abnormal breathing while sleeping, which can prevent a person from getting high-quality sleep. People with insomnia often don’t get the amount of sleep they need because they have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep.
Sleep Deprivation Effects
One of the most obvious effects of sleep deprivation is sleepiness, but there are several other short and long term effects you may not be familiar with.
Short Term Effects
- REACTION TIME: Several studies show that sleep deprivation is linked to longer reaction time, which can be detrimental. Someone with a longer reaction time won’t react as quickly as they should, which can be tragic if someone is driving a car.
- SHORT TERM MEMORY: In his book, Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker, Ph.D. explains that when we don’t get enough sleep, it makes it difficult to take on new memories, thus affecting our ability to remember and learn—which is why all-nighters aren’t a great idea when cramming for exams (133).
- DEGRADED MOOD: When a person is sleep-deprived, emotional control becomes difficult, which can lead to irrationality. You may have noticed this when you’re tired and accidentally snap at a loved one. According to Walker, our fight-or-flight response becomes amplified when we don’t get enough sleep, which leads to extreme reactions (146).
- INCREASED STRESS: One of the effects of sleep deprivation is that a person may just feel more stressed. Lack of sleep increases stress responsivity, which makes it difficult to react to stressful situations.
Long Term Effects
- SLEEP DISORDERS: Sleep deprivation can actually be a sign of sleep disorders such as insomnia. If you find you are consistently sleep deprived, it may be time to contact your doctor.
- LOWERED IMMUNITY: When you’re consistently sleep-deprived, your immune system becomes weakened so your body has a hard time fighting off illnesses.
- INCREASED RISK OF OBESITY: Research has found that people who don’t get enough sleep tend to eat more calories and carbohydrates, which can increase their risk for obesity.
- INCREASED RISK OF HEART PROBLEMS: Sleep deprivation is linked to several cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Getting To Sleep
There are a few things you can do to improve your sleep and get more sleep so you don’t become sleep-deprived.
- CONSISTENT SLEEP SCHEDULE: Set a time to go to bed and wake up every day, and stick to it. Having a consistent sleep schedule will help you get enough sleep.
- SET BOUNDARIES: Preserve the full time you need to sleep by setting boundaries in your work and social life.
- HAVE A BEDTIME ROUTINE: Set a bedtime routine you look forward to every night so you want to go to bed. That could mean you take a bath before bed, read a book, journal, or do anything else that helps you relax.
- SLEEP HYGIENE: Sleep hygiene means that your environment is conducive to sleep. Some ways you can improve your sleep hygiene are by sleeping in a comfortable position with a sleep system or using a weighted blanket to help you relieve stress.
Sleep deprivation has been shown to negatively affect the mind and body, which is why it is so important for us to get enough sleep. Strive to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night to get the restorative benefits of sleep and prevent the problems that occur because of sleep deprivation.