Everyone knows that getting too little sleep is an unhealthy behavior that can lead to a variety of health consequences such as grogginess, lack of energy, irritability and moodiness. Nowadays, sleep deprivation has become an epidemic that brings about more serious health conditions than most people realize.
Chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, heart attack, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and in extreme cases, can even cause delirium.
Ideally, adults between the ages of 26 to 64 need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep, and older adults (65+) need 7 to 8 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s sleep recommendations. If you habitually get less than the recommended number of sleep hours, your sleep deficit could also potentially affect your health in other ways, including:
• Insufficient focus and an impaired capability to think clearly the very next day
• Changes in brain activity similar to those experienced by those with psychiatric disorders
• Stress-related disorders like constipation, depression and stomach ulcers
• Increasing the likelihood of weight gain and obesity
• Putting your body into a pre-diabetic state, causing you to feel hungry whether or not you’ve already eaten
• Weakening your body’s disease-fighting capability
• Triggering memory loss
• Hastening premature aging and increasing the severity of age-related conditions.
The problem for most sleep-deprived adults is that when they get used to getting less than the ideal amount of sleep, the effects of sleep deprivation begin to seem “normal.” They become immune to the dire consequences of continued sleep loss, and therefore, fail to take corrective measures. This also applies to those who work the graveyard shift, stay up much too late or eat an excessive amount of food near bedtime.
Emotional Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Once you lose sleep on any given night, it’s like a debt you can’t repay since you can’t “make up” for lost sleep. The hours of sleep you’ve lost are lost forever. Neither can you “save” sleep hours to use for later. One of the insidious effects of sleep deprivation is that it can lead to “tremendous emotional problems,” according to Dr. Steven Feinsilver, the director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
The brain simply doesn’t work as well as it should when one is sleep-deprived. Even a low level of sleep deprivation has an impact on cognitive and emotional function, according to Dr. Feinsilver. Some of the emotional effects of sleep deprivation involve positive emotions. People who suffer from sleep loss don’t show positive emotion in their faces, which means they display a neutral or negative expression on their face, even when they claim to be happy. They also don’t perceive other people as happy – and they don’t tolerate disappointment very well.
5 Strategies for Overcoming Sleep Deprivation
1. Consume caffeine only in the morning. You can enjoy your favorite cup of coffee and still get a restful night’s sleep — as long as you make it a morning habit only. Caffeine takes a full 24 hours to work its way out of your system. For example, if you have coffee at 9am, you’ll still have 25 percent of the caffeine in your body at 9pm. The more caffeine is in your bloodstream at bedtime, the harder it will be to sleep.
2. Avoid mobile devices at night. Computers, tablets, and mobile phones emit short-wavelength blue light. Exposure to this blue light halts your body’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and makes you feel more alert. To prevent this from happening, you can either avoid using these devices after dinner — or if you must use them, install an app, such as F.Lux, which limits the amount of blue light displayed by your device according to your location and time of day, thus reducing disruption of sleep patterns.
3. Wake up at a consistent time. A regular bedtime is always a good strategy, but waking up at the same time daily also significantly helps keep your circadian rhythm in check. When you don’t wake up at the same time every day, your brain is unprepared to discern when to complete the sleep process and when it should prepare you to be awake. Sleeping in on weekend mornings can be counterproductive because it can throw off your body clock during the week.
4. Avoid taking sedatives. Contrary to what most people believe, sedatives are more harmful than helpful to your sleep cycle. That’s because they interfere with the brain’s natural sleep process, and thus, delivers dire consequences when it comes to the quality of your sleep. Taking pills, medicine, drugs, alcohol, or substances that make you sleepy greatly disrupt your brain’s natural sleep process. Gradually scale back your use by implementing the other natural strategies presented in this article.
5. Take strategic naps. For most people, a short nap in the early afternoon may be the best way to add hours to one’s sleep quotient for the day.