Remember the time when you promised yourself that today will be the last all-nighter you pull for this one last assignment? Well, the only thing you were pushing was yourself towards a condition called sleep deprivation. What is sleep deprivation? It is a state resulting from sleep deficit over a period which could result in somnolence or daytime sleepiness, which we also refer to as being groggy, having reduced levels of energy, impaired concentration, and reduced efficiency at work. You can also experience brain fog or being confused and having a lack of mental clarity.
Sleep deprivation could be caused by voluntary attempts to stay awake or due to a disease affecting your hypothalamus causing a disturbance in your circadian rhythm or even insomnia. These conditions can result in an acute or chronic type of sleep deprivation.
Why do we need sleep?
Sleep is the human way of healing the body after an entire day of wear, tear, and exhaustion. During sleep, the brain’s chemical stores are replenished, new synaptic connections are made and what we learn gets ingrained into our memories. Our heart, lungs, nervous system, and immune system, all function at an optimum and relaxed pace and get boosted up to perform their functions again under the condition of the daily demands that we place on our body. For all of this to run smoothly, we need to get a minimum of 7-8 hours of undisturbed eyes shut.
Causes of sleep deprivation
There could be various causes for sleep deprivation
- It could be because of a sleep disorder like insomnia, where the person has trouble falling asleep
- Aging could lead to sleep deprivation, more so because of the health problems and medications they take.
- In mental illnesses like schizophrenia, or illnesses like cancer, or in case of stroke people have a hard time falling asleep.
It could also be related to big changes in life like moving to a new place, flying to another country or a really busy schedule, or even a new member of the family.
Effects of sleep deprivation
If you have been skimping on sleep and experience at least one of these signs, then there is a good chance that you are sleep-deprived.
- Excessively sleepy during the day. If you catch yourself drifting off to sleep during a meeting or reading up emails or studying, it could be a symptom of sleep deprivation. Despite those n number of coffee cups, you may still end up feeling a little groggy.
- Decreased levels of concentration. As the brain is already fatigued and has limited energy now to function, you may experience decreased levels of concentration.
- The weight that is spiraling out of control. Not getting your required amount of zzzs in the night can put your body in a constant state of stress and the body’s natural response to stress is to release cortisol, the stress hormone, and store fat.
- Mood swings and changes. Increased levels of anxiety and depression are commonly experienced in states of chronic sleep deprivation. Even a single night of inadequate sleep can cause irritability and make you feel grumpy.
- Increased risk for diabetes. The constant stress of sleep deprivation can put you on track for insulin resistance, where the body cells are not able to take up and utilize sugar, and eventually diabetes.
- It can weaken your immunity. You might catch yourself falling ill more often after being sleep-deprived for a bit. Sleep deprivation can make you more susceptible to germs and the common cold, and flu can find its way to you easily.
- Poor muscle coordination and body balance. Not sleeping enough can impair your muscle regulation. Even tasks as simple as buttoning your shirt and taking a turn at the car wheel can become challenging. You are also more likely to trip, fall and bump into things
- Increase chances of an accident. Sleep deprivation in drivers can result in fatal consequences as there is a possibility of falling asleep at the wheel which could be harmful to both the driver and the other commuters.
- Heart disease. Sleep deprivation like any other consistently stressful state can put pressure on the heart and result in heart diseases
- It can decrease your libido. As it interferes with all parts of the body, it also messes up the mental integration with the reproductive system or libido. So if your performance in bet has lost its previous charm, try and get some sleep first.
Sleep deprivation and mental health
Decreased sleep could be both a cause and effect of a mental illness. If you have been experiencing mood swings, hallucinations, anxiety along with sleep disturbances, you should take a doctor’s consultation and visit the psychiatrist’s office. Sleep deprivation can worsen the symptoms of already existing mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD as well as set the ground for the same. According to the sleep foundation, nearly 75% of depressed people suffer from insomnia and sleep deprivation, thus proving poor sleep and poor mental health have a bidirectional relation to each other If the sleep deprivation is severe enough, you can even have hallucinations. Even a healthy person, who has been deprived of sleep for 24 hours, can see symptoms of schizophrenia. Eventually, it could even increase your risk for psychosis.
A key element of better mental health is therefore better sleep. Better sleep can lead to less brain fatigue, a boost in energy level and a general sense of wellbeing, better memory, and concentration, and therefore improved self-esteem which is also a key component of boosting mental health. You feel balanced and well-rounded. The chemicals in your brain too, try to restore mental balance and mood stability which can set the ground for dealing with your mental illness better.
Tips to improve sleep
A better quality of sleep will translate into a better quality of life. The following are a few steps you can take to improve your sleep
- Be consistent. Fix a time to sleep and go to bed at the same time every day. It will reset your circadian rhythm and help you improve your sleep quality
- Turn off all electronic devices, 1 hour before bedtime. This is to reduce the stimulation of the brain from the news, movies, or video games and tell the body that it is time to wind down.
- Do a relaxing activity before bed. Read a book, listen to soft music, do yoga or drink chamomile tea and even meditate to relax your mind before sleeping.
- Exercising for at least 20-30 minutes in a day will help give you the right amount of fatigue so that you can fall asleep easily.
- Reduce the lighting and if possible, temperature around you, and you are all set for a good night’s sleep.
- If you still have trouble falling or staying asleep, please visit a doctor and try to find out the cause for the same.