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Sleep deprivation occurs when an individual gets less sleep than they need to feel awake and alert. People vary in how little sleep is needed to be considered sleep-deprived.
Some people such as older adults seem to be more resistant to the effects of sleep deprivation, while others, especially children and young adults, are more vulnerable. Although occasional sleep interruptions are generally no more than a nuisance, ongoing lack of sleep can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, emotional difficulties, poor job performance, obesity and a lowered perception of quality of life. There is no questioning the importance of restorative sleep, and a certain amount of attention is necessary to both manage and prevent sleep deprivation.
This Medical News Today Knowledge Center article examines the consequences of sleep deprivation, along with what can be done to treat and prevent it. Here are some key points about sleep deprivation. More detail and supporting information is in the main article. The main symptom of ongoing sleep loss is excessive daytime sleepiness, but other symptoms include:. It can have the following impact :. Some groups of people may consider sleep as wasted time and purposely deprive themselves of sleep to pursue other things such as entertainment, educational goals, or money-making pursuits.
Others may unintentionally not get enough sleep because of shift work, family obligations, or demanding jobs. Consistent sleep-wake patterns of going to bed late, frequent nighttime arousals, or waking up early can lead to sleep deprivation and the accumulation of sleep debt. Additional causes of sleep deprivation include medical problems such as depression , obstructive sleep apnea , hormone imbalances, and other chronic illnesses.
Treatment is only required when a person physically cannot get to sleep, due to either physical or psychological difficulties. A therapist or sleep specialist will be able to offer guidance and coping techniques for reaching a restful state and sleeping. There are two main avenues of treatment for sleep deprivation: Behavioral and cognitive measures and medications. There are a number of effective methods to enhance sleep that do not require medication, including:.
When non-medicinal treatment is not effective, drugs are available that can help induce sleep. Some are available over-the-counter OTC , and some are only available with a valid prescription. There is a wide range of available options, including benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, and melatonin receptor antagonists. However, some people form a dependency on sleeping medications. It is important to limit the dosage and try to use non-medicinal measures where possible. The good news is that most of the negative effects of sleep deprivation reverse when sufficient sleep is obtained.
The treatment for sleep deprivation is to satisfy the biological sleep need, prevent deprivation and "pay back" accumulated sleep debt. When you fail to get your required amount of sufficient sleep you start to accumulate a sleep debt. For example, if you need 7 hours of sleep nightly to feel awake and alert and only get 5 hours, you have a sleep debt of 2 hours. If you continue that pattern for five nights, you have an accumulated sleep debt of 10 hours.
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The only way to erase a sleep debt is to get more sleep. Depending on the scale of the sleep debt, it may take some time to recover fully. However, the positive effects of paying this debt off will be felt quickly. To pay back a sleep debt, it is necessary to start getting the sleep you need, plus an additional hour or so per night, until the debt is paid.
Afterwards, the required amount of sleep can be resumed without the additional hour. Even if the sleep debt is hundreds or even thousands of hours, it can still be successfully reconciled with a conscious effort to restructure obligations, and allowing sufficient time off to recover.
You will know you have paid back your sleep debt when you wake up feeling refreshed, and you do not feel excessively drowsy during the day. If sleep deprivation is ongoing, and negative symptoms persist despite practicing good sleep hygiene measures, consultation with a healthcare provider is recommended. The first step for recognizing a sleep problem is to keep a written sleep history in a sleep log.
Write down each day how many hours sleep you have, how many times per night you wake up, how rested you feel after waking up, and any feelings of sleepiness you experience during the day. If you have a partner, it may be worth asking them to note any snoring, gasping, or limb-jerking, as a doctor may also ask about this. It will then be possible to present this information to any doctor you visit in a meaningful way. Sleep specialists can also identify a pattern using a polysomnogram, or sleep study.
This is carried out in a sleep laboratory. Electrodes are placed at various points on the body, including the scalp and face. The person with suspected sleep deprivation will sleep overnight at a sleep clinic, and these monitors will measure breathing, blood, heart rate and rhythm, muscle activity, and brain and eye movements during sleep. Especially in those who wilfully sleep too little, diagnosis can be as simple as recognizing that you do not get enough sleep and deciding to make changes.
Sleep deprivation weakens the ability of the part of the brain that handles reasoning, known as the prefrontal cortex, to control the emotional part, the amygdala. This leads to the abnormal processing of emotions. Sleep also appears to be necessary to prepare the brain for learning. If you get into bed at night and find your mind is still racing with what has been going on through the day, overtiredness could be to blame. During the day, you may find it difficult to concentrate or to see the wood for the trees in your professional and your personal lives.
Vik Veer is an ear, nose and throat consultant who specialises in sleep apnoea. But he has become something of a sleep expert because so many people who consult him turn out to have different sleep issues, including — he believes — overtiredness. You see people looking haggard and tired, and only just making it through.
Who is at particular risk of overtiredness?
Can’t sleep? Perhaps you’re overtired
Veer says thirty- and fortysomethings are especially vulnerable: they often have a great deal on their plates and they feel they have to keep on going, however tough the terrain. They are less likely than older people to build breaks and switch-off time into their days; they have high expectations of their social life as well as their professional life, so a busy day at the office is followed by a busy evening out in a bar or meeting friends. So, they decide to spend another hour watching the first of the box set; and then a second; and before they turn out the light, they reach again for their phone for a quick update on messages and news.
In , the American psychologist put physiological requirements, including sleep, food, water and shelter, at the bottom of his pyramid; self-actualisation, such as seeking happiness, pursuing a goal, using our talents, are at the top. As it is harder to go without food, water and shelter, we have decided sleep is expendable. Bonnier only collects personal information that is relevant to the purposes for which it will be used.
What's to know about sleep deprivation?
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