Reading Time: 10 minutesClaudio Scott/ CC BY
A poll conducted by NSF/ National Sleep Foundation found over 76% of parents face sleep deprivation. Additionally, sleep deprivation is also faced by those working in the military, students cramming all-night for an exam or all night workers. Sleep deprivation, whether it is due to a bout of insomnia, an arrival of an infant or other issues, is tough to deal with. Strategies are needed to get the rest your body craves. To understand more about how to cope with sleep deprivation, we first have to understand where the root of the problem lies.
Sleep Deprivation: Know More
Sleep is not one continuous state when the body remains unconscious. There are two kinds of sleep patterns: REM and Non REM. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. This is the point in your sleep when you get dreams. Non REM sleep is a 4-stage process. Stage 1 involves feeling drowsy and the body becomes less aware of surroundings. Slower brain waves and nobody or eye movement characterize the second stage of sleep. This is the phase known as falling asleep. The next two stages that follow initiate deep sleep where breathing is regular and there is no response to external stimulus. These are the restorative phases sleep-deprived folks miss out on.
The sleep/wakefulness cycle is part of the circadian rhythm, which is impacted by exposure to light, and governed by an internal clock. Located in the hypothalamic region of the brain, this cycle is initiated through genetically induced mechanisms for regulating hormones, body temperature, and alertness. Most experience energy and alertness in mid-morning hours, late afternoon and early evening. The amount of sleep a person needs to stay alert and refreshed differs across individuals. Genetic factors influence the sleep duration, though the normal range is around 6-10 hours. Most require anywhere from 7 and a half to 8 and a half hours of sleep during the night. Illness, general health, and depression mean your body needs more sleep to recuperate.
If sleep cycles generally of 90-100 minutes in duration are interrupted during the night, the person will waken feeling tired. The level of alertness depends on the stage of sleep when one was awakened. If the person is roused in the first two stages, he will feel fresh. In stages 3 or 4 sleep inertia may be experienced. Those rousing from REM sleep can remember their dreams.
If a person experiences disturbances on sleep cycle or lacks quality sleep, sleep deprivation is said to occur. Work demands, lifestyle choices and family life can cause a person to sleep for less hours and still maintain wakefulness and energy levels. Shift and night workers and those suffering from sleep deprivation on a chronic basis may suffer, however. Sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy contribute to issues of sleep deprivation as well.
Sleep has become a luxury rather than a necessity in modern societies. Sleeping less has a positive connotation and this can have a lot of adverse implications for health. Research has shown that lowering sleep time by a single hour for a week can equal staying awake for an entire single day and night of that week. Lack of sleep can lead to fatigue, decreased alertness, slow reaction times, and impaired thinking as well as judgment. Studies have shown that staying awake for 18 straight hours leads to blood alcohol concentration of 0.5 which doubles after a single 24 hour period of sleep deprivation. A drowsy driver can, therefore, be as deadly as a drunk driver.
If you feel alert throughout the day and make it through the afternoon, this is probably because you are getting enough rest. Well rested people can endure tasks that are sedentary and monotonous without falling asleep. Here are the indications you may be suffering from a sleep deficit:
- An alarm clock is required to wake up at a certain time.
- There’s a problem to get out of bed at dawn.
- Feeling stressed, irritable and tired during the week is a common occurrence
- There is difficulty in remembering and concentration.
- One falls asleep in warm rooms during training or meeting sessions
- A nap is needed during the day
- Drowsiness is reported while driving.
- You fall asleep within 5 minutes of bedtime.
The Impact of Sleep Deprivation
Loss of sleep can pile up and create a sleep debt at night. Larger sleep debt causes more restorative sleep to return to the body and normal well rested levels of rest. In research, it has been discovered that those sleeping for 4-5 hours in a night for a single week needed just two nights of normal sleep to return to optimal mood and performance levels. Lack of sleep over a period of time can initiate chronic sleep deprivation.
Affecting mental processes and intellectual capacities, losing sleep can cause test scores to drop. This is because sleep deprivation impairs memory, focus, concentration, and decision-making. Extended periods without sleep can lead to hallucinates and paranoia. Chronic lack of sleep can cause long-standing health issues and even a shorter lifespan.
Lack of sleep causes slower glucose metabolism by 30-40 percent, increasing stress hormone cortisol’s levels. It also generates lower amounts of hormone leptin which signals satiety and can lead to overeating and carb cravings.
Chronic lack of sleep can initiate depression and mood swings. It can also harm the stomach and gastrointestinal functions and interfere in the form of fertility issues, lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity and lack of satisfaction as well as increased use of drugs and alcohol. Unaware of reduced sleep, humans become habituated to deprivation and lose the ability to feel wide awake at times.
Micro-sleeping, brief sleep in unintended hours or making mistakes can also cause serious accidents. Excessive deprivation and overwork can take a massive toll on the body. The human body is not designed to work 24/7. Adequate sleep is essential and fighting the body clock will only impair health.
How to Cope: Tips For Combating Sleep Deprivation
Quality sleep is the only way to effectively battle deprivation and chronic sleep deficits. Good sleeping habits are essential. The room should be quiet and dark as well as cool. Good quality and comfortable mattresses are essential. Invest in comfy pillows and bedding. Good sleep habits are critical. Here’s what you should and should not do to deal with sleep deprivation.
#1 Avoid Excessive Activity or Stimulants at Night
Avoid watching television at night as this can really wake you up. Avoiding tobacco is also critical, apart from restricting the intake of caffeine. Avoid caffeinated beverages or stimulants like alcohol and avoid the use of OTC sleeping pills. Reduce stress as far as possible. Relaxation techniques are essential to lower the stress and facilitate sleep.
#2 Timely Exercise To Improve Quality of Sleep
While exercising during the day can help the body maintain natural biological rhythms and raise the quality of sleep off duty, exercise should not be more than 4 hours prior to sleep time. Restorative sleep is essential and daytime sleep for shift workers can improve in quality with regular exercise.
#3 Catch a Nap
Napping is also an effective strategy for coping with lack of sleep, with even 20-minute naps proving to be effective. Two-hour naps for the shift or emergency workers is a must.
#4 Try Melatonin
Another useful strategy to counter lack of sleep is to try melatonin. This hormone regulates sleep. Research so far supports small benefits of using this supplement, though it is not US FDA approved.
#5 Visit the Doctor
If your sleep deficit is on account of medical conditions and underlying health issues, doctors can prove beneficial. They may prescribe medicate for sleep and counter sleep disorders found in mostly shift workers.
#6 Make Up for Lost Bedtime Rest
Another important tip to counter sleep deprivation, in the long run, is to get some shut-eye. The brain rests during REM and deep sleep. Spending more time in deep and REM sleep is critical. Sleeping a bit more during the weekends for 2-3 hours can prove advantageous. A little extra dozing should not turn into a sleep binge because any type of sleep disturbance can result as a consequence of that.
#7 Don’t Eat Heavy Meals at Dinner
To help counter insomnia, it is essential to avoid eating heavy meals before bedtime. Additionally, stressful tasks should be avoided. If you really feel sleeplessness, try a warm glass of milk which releases tryptophan that helps in sleep.
#8 Set the Stage for a Good Night’s Rest
The bedchamber should be quiet, cool and dark to induce good sleep. Light blocking shades and curtains are a must as it turning the alarm clock away. If you live in a noisy neighborhood (most of us do!) try white noise to make the body restful and ensure food sleep.
#9 Establish a Ritual For Sleep
Following a nighttime ritual before turning in is essential. Read a book or take a bath to relax your body. Bedtime and waking up time should be the same every day. Seek professional help for inducing bodily relaxation.
#10 Discuss Your Sleep Needs
Whether it’s your employer or your spouse, be clear that those in a close relationship (whether personal or professional) know about your sleep requirements. Saving up is essential, for example, to get a night nurse for your child, if you have sleep-related concerns. If you are the mother of a newborn, try the hospital nursery to recuperate from your birth.
#11 Refuse Additional Responsibilities Which are Burdens
If you are feeling the strain at work or personal duties are piling on, don’t think twice about lessening the burden, so that you can get the rest your body deserves. If you are a newborn’s parent, sleeping when your baby sleeps works well. Stave off postpartum sleep deficit by choosing to nap when your body sleeps.
#12 Seek Help
If you need help with personal or professional duties, don’t feel negative about seeking helping hands, whether it is a doctor or an au pair. Ask your partner to be there for you in this difficult time.
#13 Check for Sleep Disorders
Your sleep deprivation could be the result of sleep-related problems like sleep apnea which is pauses in breath while you rest. Gaining weight is one of the reasons people fall prey to such disorders. A sleep study can monitor if your sleep deficit is due to a medical cause.
#14 Get the Tasks Done
Unfinished work can also weigh on your mind and prevent you from getting good sleep. The need of the hour is to prioritize the work and function well. Turn to online stores or help from friends to cut down on time wastage. Stick to a specific bedtime and do so, even if sleep is interrupted or fragmented.
#15 Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating right and cutting down on fatty foods can initiate good sleep. This is because nutrient-rich foods offer a lot of benefits such as relaxing the body through secretion of hormones like serotonin which soothes the mind and initiates restful sleep.
#16 Don’t Stick to the 8 Hour Rule
Going beyond the eight-hour rule is important. Functioning optimally is all about sleeping for as long as your body needs. Individuals with no daytime impairments should consider themselves cured of sleep deficit. Pay attention to the sleep duration best suited to meet your needs.
#17 Don’t Try Too Hard
Many people with insomnia force themselves to sleep. Because sleep is a biological process, it cannot be forced. Engage in activities like meditation that can induce restfulness. Always sleep at the same time rather than going to bed early or staying late in bed as this can impair sleep cycles.
#18 Study your Habits
Another important point is to maintain a routine. This organizes your day and helps you to feel restful at night. Try to banish sleep stealing activities like TV or the internet. Understanding that sleep changes over time is of importance. Many factors can trigger the transition including illness, stress, injury and environmental changes. Cultivation of healthy habits is a must.
#19 Eliminate Worries
Another key factor is to eliminate worries during the day. Don’t think of stressful things while sleeping and try to identify worrisome thoughts that induce nighttime worries and keep you from falling asleep.
#20 Maintain a Sleep Journal
A sleep diary can help you to monitor patterns, thoughts, and sleep-related habits. Track when you go to bed, how long it takes to experience sleep and wake up to record thoughts that are arousing. Identify which aspect of sleep you are dissatisfied with and figure out issues so that you can work on them.
#21 Evaluate Your Schedule
Long working hours, overtime and schedules that are chock a block can seriously impair sleep. Figure out the work burdens and how to tack these if you want restful sleep.
#22 Try Therapy or Medication
Therapies like CBT/ cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia recommended by institutions like American Academy of Sleeping Medicines Practices Parameter is a good choice. Speed a specialist and professionals certified in administering medication and therapy. No one medicine cures all approach should be taken, however. Educating sleep deprives patients about their options is critical. At Stanford’s sleep clinic, sleep specialists work to educate patients about choices for treatment and which approach is suited best to them, for example.
Sleep is a vital biological need essential for physiological and psychological well-being. Don’t underestimate the value of a good night’s rest and always work to ensure that the sleep deficits encountered in the rush and tumble of daily life are dealt with effectively, to enable good health and positive outcomes for yourself.