If you are sleep deprived, you have a big reason to worry. There was a time when it was considered a virtue to sleep less and work more, but not anymore. Sleep deprivation affects your health, reduces your performance and may endanger lives.
The signs of Sleep deprivation
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you are not getting enough sleep.
- You feel sleepy during the day and even a cup of coffee does not help.
- Frequent yawning.
- You feel irritable and find it difficult to focus on your work.
- Accidentally falling asleep during the day.
- You find it difficult to think clearly or concentrate.
Why is lack of sleep such a common problem?
The stresses and worries of day-to-day life can interfere with sleep. Demanding work environments, deadlines and other work pressures can force people to work more and sleep less. Mental health problems like anxiety and depression also make it difficult for many people to get enough sleep.
Other than the known issues described above, cases of undiagnosed sleep disorders are also increasing. This is a bigger cause for worry because you cannot fix what you are unaware of. You may be thinking that you are getting enough sleep, but you could actually be sleep deprived. After sleeping for 7 to 8 hours, you should normally get up feeling refreshed. If you regularly get up feeling tired and sleepy, despite what you think was a good night’s sleep, you should see a doctor to rule out sleep disorders.
Irrespective of the cause, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, get it sorted out on priority. Chronic lack of sleep has a serious impact on health and well-being.
The consequences of sleep deprivation
- Decreases your performance and alertness
Lack of sleep makes you less alert and affects your performance. Even a shortfall of one to two hours of sleep can reduce alertness and performance by 30%.
- Reduces your ability to think, learn and remember
When you are not alert and find it hard to concentrate, it becomes more difficult to learn. Lack of sleep also affects your reasoning and problem solving abilities. Your brain consolidates and organizes memories while you sleep. You will find it more difficult to remember and recall things if you don’t sleep well.
- Affects your judgment and decision making ability
Lack of sleep makes it more difficult to make sense of events. It impairs your ability to recognize, judge and respond correctly to situations. Impaired judgment can make you underestimate the problems of sleep deprivation. You may wrongly think that you are fine with your current level of sleep. Although people with chronic shortage of sleep don’t feel that they have any problem, they perform poorly in tests. That brings us to the next issue, accidents.
- Increases your risk of being involved in accidents
Poor alertness and judgment may not seem like a big issue in a desk job. However, if you engage in an activity that requires you to be alert and respond to situations, it can become a big safety hazard. People who don’t get enough sleep may also fall asleep for short durations without realizing it.
Fatigue and lack of sleep was a major factor in many air crashes and even bigger disasters like the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatigue results in over 100,000 road accidents, 70,000 injuries and over 1500 deaths every year.
- Decreases the quality of life
Lack of sleep can affect your relationships and family life. One partner’s inability to sleep often causes strains in relationships among couples. Irritability and bad moods make the situation worse. Fatigue and lack of concentration also makes it difficult to enjoy family activities like watching TV or playing games.
Some sleep disorders like sleep apnea may decrease the level of testosterone in men and reduce their sex drive. Sleep deprivation is also suspected of reducing libido in both men and women.
- May cause depression and other mental health problems
The problems created by sleep deprivation have a significant effect on emotions and can make people moody and short-tempered. People with insomnia are more prone to depression and it also makes depression worse. Conversely, depression makes it more difficult for people to fall asleep. This vicious cycle can cause tremendous damage to mental health.
Sleep deprivation is also linked to a higher risk of hallucinations and may also be responsible for triggering or making mania worse. Other problems like impulsive behavior, suicidal tendencies and paranoia are also known to occur. The good news is that although chronic lack of sleep can trigger mental health problems, sleeping well usually makes them better.
- Speeds up ageing
Lack of sleep hampers the body’s repair and restoration processes. Growth hormone, which helps build muscles, bones and skin, is released during deep sleep. Insufficient sleep may reduce growth hormone levels making essential maintenance difficult.
When you don’t sleep well, your body is likely to release more cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol can damage collagen, the protein that keeps the skin healthy, smooth and elastic. Chronic sleep deprivation may thus cause dry and unhealthy skin. You will also see fine wrinkles and more dark circles below your eyes.
- Makes it more difficult to stay fit
The increased stress caused due to lack of sleep can make you turn to comfort foods. Impaired judgment may also prevent you from making intelligent food choices. Studies suggest that lack of sleep may actually increase appetite. This could be due to variations in levels of peptides that stimulate hunger and signal satiety to the brain. If you are sleep starved, the chances are that you will consume more fatty and sugary foods. As a result, you may gain weight and find it difficult to lose excess weight.
- Increases the risk of serious health problems
Health problems created by sleep deprivation increases the risks of diseases like diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. In fact, most people who have insomnia also have another serious medical issue. Many doctors also consider chronic sleep deprivation to be a major factor in untimely death.
- Weakens your immune system
While you sleep, your body strengthens your immune system by producing cytokines, immune cells and antibodies. Sleep also ensures adequate rest and makes extra energy available for fighting infections. Lack of sleep weakens the immune system, makes your body more vulnerable to infection and increases your recovery period.
Chronic sleep deprivation is not a trivial problem. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a day. Ensure that you are getting enough sleep. If you still have symptoms of insufficient sleep, see your doctor.
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