At some point in our lives most of us will probably have missed a night’s sleep. Perhaps pulling an all nighter to study for an exam, being up with a crying baby or a sick child, a late-night party that didn’t want to end or even as a result of travelling. Whether your missed night of sleep was as a result of something that was fun, or something that you had to do, the result is the same, a sleepless night that will have a knock-on effect the following day. When you have had a sleepless night, your body has been denied the chance to recuperate overnight and you will be lacking in energy, sluggish and probably a little on the irritable side.
Missing an entire night’s sleep, is fortunately not that common. But long-term sleep deprivation by having frequent nights of poor sleep is sadly all too familiar. Whether for reasons of work, childcare, stress and anxiety or just poor habits, the impact of lack of sleep on our waking lives is more significant.
In our article “How much sleep do I need?” we looked at the fact that most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night in order to function properly on a daily basis. According to insurance giants Aviva, who carried out a Wellbeing Report in 2017, approximately 48% of the people surveyed admitted to not getting enough sleep at night. Almost a quarter of the people questioned (23%) stated that they did not manage more than 5 hours sleep per night, putting them in the sleep deprivation category. These figures are similar to those collected by Mental Health Foundation for their 2011 sleep report.
The main causes of sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation is caused by getting insufficient sleep. For adults over 18, the recommended amount of sleep should be between 7 to 9 hours, dropping to 7 to 8 hours for those aged 65 and over.
Some people deliberately choose not to get the recommended amount of sleep as they don’t feel tired and see it as time wasted, preferring to do their own things. Others may not get enough sleep due to circumstances in their life such as shift work or small children. For some people lack of sleep that can lead to sleep deprivation occurs as a result of stress; for example, over money, relationship, or job issues. Medical issues such as sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, chronic illness, hormone imbalances and depression can also cause insomnia and thus sleep deprivation.
There are a number of reasons for sleeplessness, and while short term lack of sleep over the course of a couple of days may not be too much of an issue, long term reduction in hours of sleep can result in serious sleep deprivation which can have major health implications.
If you constantly go to bed late, wake frequently during the night and get up early then your continued sleep-wake pattern will lead to sleep deprivation.
Effects of sleep deprivation
There are various effects on the body and mind that can be attributed to the ongoing sleep loss that is sleep deprivation. It goes without saying that feeling tired during the day and dropping off more easily during normal waking hours is an effect of not having enough sleep. However there are more significant consequences of lack of sleep. Many people experience some or all of the following after periods of bad sleep:
- Changes in your mood and behaviour – this could include being short-tempered, feeling gloomy, not coping with small setbacks, and more seriously depression and anxiety.
- Concentration difficulties – this can lead to decreased reaction times, for example, while at work or when driving
- Higher level function difficulties – this could include difficulty organising, planning and also with judgement
- Lack of motivation
- Increased appetite, particularly for carbohydrate dense foods
- Reduced sex drive
- Possible changes to your pulse, heart rate and blood pressure which can have implications for overall health
- Hormone changes – disruption to your sleep pattern can affect your thyroid, growth hormones and even contribute to fertility issues
People who suffer with long term sleep deprivation are more likely to be overweight and also struggle to lose any weight at all.
Treatments for sleep deprivation
The obvious treatment for sleep deprivation is of course to get more restorative sleep. The Good Sleep Advisor blog section has various articles which should hopefully help with your particular needs. Our article “What to do before you go to bed” for example has handy tips you could try.
We’ve also reviewed and recommend a range of products that will help you get to sleep and be more comfortable at night time. Ensuring you’ve got the right bedding, a comfy pillow, the correct temperature duvet and a supportive mattress are all obvious starters. Making your room conducive to sleep is also essential for relaxation and sleep. Our Sleep Aids section of this site are a good starting point.
If you’re experiencing chronic or severe sleep loss, you may wish to visit your GP. They will also probably look at your sleep routine and make some suggestions of things that you might be able to improve in order to help you sleep better. If your sleep deprivation is due to a medical issue such as a cough or a pain that is preventing you from sleeping, then your GP is an obvious place to start.
There are several other treatments that can be effective for long-term sleep deprivation. These include relaxation techniques, stimulation control and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – for which your GP can refer you. If non-medicinal treatments are not effective then your GP will be able to prescribe something to help you sleep, however this is only a short-term solution.
Our Sleep App section reviews a few good apps which can be very useful for meditation, relaxation and monitoring sleep. Often a few changes and a bit of help is what many people need to get them out of the cycle of sleep deprivation and back into healthier sleep habits.