Sleep deprivation

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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.

In a nutshell, sleep deprivation is caused by consistent lack of sleep or reduced quality of sleep. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis can eventually lead to health consequences that affect your entire body. This may also be caused by an underlying sleep disorder.

Noticeable signs of sleep deprivation include:

  • excessive sleepiness

  • yawning

  • irritability

  • daytime fatigue

Stimulants, like caffeine, aren’t enough to override your body’s profound need for sleep. In fact, these can make sleep deprivation worse by making it harder to fall asleep at night. This, in turn, may lead to a cycle of nighttime insomnia followed by daytime caffeine consumption to make up for the lost hours of shut-eye.

If sleep deprivation continues long enough, you could start having hallucinations — seeing or hearing things that aren’t there. A lack of sleep can also trigger mania in people who have bipolar disorder. Other psychological risks include:

  • impulsive behaviour

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • paranoia

  • suicidal thoughts

Sleep deprivation can negatively affect a range of systems in the body.

It can have the following impact:

  • Not getting enough sleep prevents the body from strengthening the immune system and producing more cytokines to fight infection. This can mean a person can take longer to recover from illness as well as having an increased risk of chronic illness.

  • Sleep deprivation can also result in an increased risk of new and advanced respiratory diseases.

  • A lack of sleep can affect body weight. Two hormones in the body, leptin and ghrelin, control feelings of hunger and satiety, or fullness. The levels of these hormones are affected by sleep. Sleep deprivation also causes the release of insulin, which leads to increased fat storage and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • Sleep helps the heart vessels to heal and rebuild as well as affecting processes that maintain blood pressure and sugar levels as well as inflammation control. Not sleeping enough increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • Insufficient sleep can affect hormone production, including growth hormones and testosterone men.

If you continue to have problems sleeping at night and are fighting daytime fatigue, talk to your doctor. They can test for underlying health conditions that might be getting in the way of your sleep schedule.