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Sleep Deprivation – What Is It?

sleep deprivation, effects, dangers of sleep debt

Sleep deprivation, or ‘sleep starvation’ in some circles, is the condition in which the body does not get to have the kind of rest it needs, for either a long or brief period of time. When an individual is asleep, the body can relax and replenish lost energy. If the body isn’t obtaining enough rest to recharge the batteries, then it is time to get worried. The average adult requires between six and eight hours of sleep every day. However, that is not always achievable, what with the busy schedules many people have to follow.

In a society that values optimal productivity, we often find ourselves cutting corners when it comes to getting the required number of hours of sleep. While it may seem like you’re doing just fine without this extra hours of sleep, when you lose sleep for an extended period of time, the lost hours add up and you wind up with sleep debt. Do this for several days, or a week, and your thoughts and behavior change; you get angry over trivial matters, see things that aren’t there, and so on. At this point, you are experiencing the effects of sleep deprivation.

What causes sleep deprivations?

In some cases, the causes of sleep deprivation are voluntary. Take the case of Randy Gardner, a seventeen year old who went eleven (11!) days without sleep. Well, his reason for doing this: a spot in the Guinness World Book of Records. His achievement didn’t come without its fair share of challenges; for one, the challenge of drooping eyelids. He was lucky that he came away from the challenge without long-term physical or psychological damage.

Randy’s case was a special one, and voluntary wakefulness is a habit you should definitely kick to the curb. Sleep deprivation is harmful, and can bring on problems you can’t even foresee. So, what are the common causes of sleep deficit?

  • Inadequate sleep time
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Stress and depression
  • Medication
  • Illness
  • Challenging situations (new born baby keeping one awake)

Regardless of reason, it is clear that lacking sleep is a serious matter. The medical community and other stakeholders have poured a lot of money into research on the topic in the hopes of finding a better understanding of just how sleep deprivation works. To better understand this, in our case, we have to see how it impacts one’s life.

sleep deprivation

Understanding sleep deprivation

Sleep is important to human beings. Not only does it amount to feeling rested, but it also allows the body and mind to heal and restore themselves. For this to occur, an individual would need to sleep up to the fifth stage of sleep. What’s that, you ask?  There are five stages of sleep, with the most important one being the last one- the deep sleep level. In everyday life, a lot of stress is placed on the mind and body to function and respond accordingly. All the functions performed during the day require a good night’s sleep to repair that stress. For this to happen, the fifth level of sleep has to be reached, otherwise the level of sleep is only on the surface- not enough to repair and prepare for the next day of challenges.

When the mind and body don’t get a chance to repair themselves, sleep deprivation symptoms begin to show, which is another way of the body telling you that it cannot perform to its optimal level. The popular misconception a while back was that a person was only slightly affected by lack of sleep. The truth is, though, that lack of sleep can lead to major illnesses, both at a physical and mental level. If the symptoms are ignored, the person risks the body shutting down completely, but if the symptoms are taken care of through treatment, the reward is a productive, healthy body.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation

It is good to remember that while the symptoms are the same for most people, the degree varies in individual cases. Some people also might show one or two, while others will display a whole lot of them. In either case, it is important to pay attention to the body’s signals to enjoy a long and productive life.

It is also good to note at this point that at different times in our lives, we all experience trouble sleeping. When this is occasional, not a lot needs to be done. But when the problem becomes persistent, seeking help is necessary. With that said, the following are the symptoms that a doctor would see in a typical sufferer of sleep deprivation.

sleep deprivation

  • Difficulty in falling asleep
  • Trouble with focus and concentration when awake
  • Restlessness and frequent waking up during the night
  • Lying awake for hours on end
  • Periods of lethargy and low energy
  • Increased levels of stress and anxiety
  • Poor memory
  • Decreased performance
  • Relationship problems

Studies have shown that lack of sleep may also contribute to increased mortality risks. In some scientific studies, it has been found that lack of sleep can contribute greatly to mortality, more than smoking, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Sleep insufficiency is one of the predictors of institutionalization among the elderly.

With the abundance of information available about lack of sleep, much of the resulting illnesses, increased injuries and accidents in the workplace, low productivity, lack of energy, poor concentration, and memory problems can be avoided. Increasing the awareness levels should be the first step for all of us. Some scientists have even recommended that sleep deprivation be viewed in the same light as alcohol addiction because of its impact on society.

On an individual level, the only way to avoid sleep deprivation and its troubling effects is to get enough sleep, preferably at least six solid hours every night, more if possible. For some, this is easier said than done, but we hope that these key facts will help you realize that the dangers of sleep deprivation–and the benefits of a good night’s sleep– definitely make it worth your time.

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