Sleep deprivation is the term used to describe the state caused by an inadequate quantity or quality of sleep. So, how do you know whether you’re getting enough shut-eye?
Sleep is as essential as food and water so, if you don’t get enough it can lead to various health problems. A lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep can have a profound effect on how you function, as well as causing daytime sleepiness and fatigue. Imagine trying to function normally when you are jet-lagged or even changing shift patterns if you are a shift worker.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
A sleep-deprived person is more prone to accidents and is also more likely to make mistakes and/or bad decisions. These can have serious consequences, such as road accidents or injuries at work.
Here are some of the effects of a reduction in sleep time of as little as two hours, i.e. six hours instead of eight hours sleep, from the Victorian Government’s Better Health website:
- reduced alertness
- shortened attention span
- slower than normal reaction time
- poorer judgement
- reduced awareness of the environment and situation
- reduced decision-making skills
- poorer memory
- reduced concentration
- increased likelihood of mentally ‘stalling’ or fixating on one thought
- increased likelihood of moodiness and bad temper
- reduced work efficiency
- loss of motivation
- errors of omission – making a mistake by forgetting to do something
- errors of commission – making a mistake by doing something, but choosing the wrong option
- microsleep – brief periods of involuntary sleeping that range from a few seconds to a few minutes in duration.
As your body also performs many vital functions whilst you are asleep, including detoxification and the production of a variety of nutrients including hormones, if you are sleep-deprived, these functions may be adversely affected.
How do you know if you lack sleep?
- you feel sleepy all day and yawn a lot
- you doze off when sitting still or when watching television
- you feeling groggy in the morning and do not want to get out of bed
- you have difficulty concentrating
- you’re moody and irritable
What causes sleep deprivation?
Here are a few of the common causes:
- you may be a studying late, a night owl or like to party until the wee small hours
- if you are a parent, you will know how often young children wake you in the night to see to their needs
- you may be ill in bed with a cold or flu, cannot breathe easily and therefore wake often.
- you may do shift work which disrupts your sleep-wake cycle on a regular basis, airline crew also tend to have their sleeping patterns disturbed by changes in time zones
- sleep apnoea, snoring and restless legs may keep you awake at night
- some prescribed medications can cause insomnia
- your bedroom may be too hot or too cold, your partner may snore or your neighbours be too noisy
- you drink alcohol, coffee, smoke, or eat a heavy meal close to bedtime
- you lie in bed and worry, rather than finding a way to relax.
How much sleep is enough?
Sleep requirements differ from one person to the next depending on physical activity levels, general health and other individual factors. However, generally speaking, children and teenagers need nine-10 hours sleep per night and adults require about eight hours regardless of age. It is a fallacy that as you get older you need less sleep.
So how do I get more sleep naturally?
Here are just a few suggestions for improving your habits and sleeping environment:
- go to bed earlier each night
- don’t smoke, drink alcohol or coffee close to bedtime
- make you bedroom as comfortable as you can by keeping it dark and sound-proof, turn off all lights including light from digital alarm clocks and wear earplugs if you have noisy neighbours
- don’t have TV or a computer in your bedroom
- use relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep quickly
- if you or your partner snores, get professional help and a separate bedroom