Sleep Deprivation: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Sleep deprivation is a general term used to describe a state caused by consistent lack of sleep. The ideal amount of sleep that a person needs varies from individual to individual, but on average most adults need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Teens need an average of about 9 hours of sleep per night, and children need more than 9 hours of nightly sleep, depending on their age.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and stay focused. The inability to focus and concentrate will further weaken memory.

Sleep deprivation is a common condition that can affect anyone and it can have a huge impact on both your physical and mental health. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to stress, depression, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

What Causes Sleep Deprivation?

There are a variety of factors that can cause sleep deprivation. Some of the most common causes include:

Poor sleep hygiene

Poor sleep hygiene, such as having irregular bedtime, drinking coffee, or eating heavy meals or sugary snacks before bed, can all impact your quality of sleep.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People who have sleep apnea often feel tired and sleepy during the day because they are not getting a good quality sleep at night.

Illness

Certain illness, such as cold or tonsillitis, can cause snoring, gagging, and frequent waking which can disrupt a normal sleeping pattern.

Medications

Drugs used to treat epilepsy or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can interfere with your sleep, leading to sleep deprivation.

Personal obligations

You may have personal obligations that may prevent adequate sleep. For example, a caretaker who have to provide overnight care for a family member or parents whose newborn wakes up multiple times in the night.

Environmental factors

Environmental factors, such as loud noise, bright light, extreme hot or cold temperature, can also affect the quality and amount of your night’s sleep.

Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

The symptoms will vary depending on the severity of your lack of sleep. Some of the most common symptoms related to sleep deprivation include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constant yawning
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Poor attention

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor or ask a sleep specialist for a referral. Your doctor will ask you detailed questions to get a better sense of the nature of your sleeping problems.

Sleep Deprivation Treatment

The goal of sleep deprivation treatment is to increase the total sleep time and the treatment depends on its severity and the underlying cause. For example:

  • If your sleep deprivation is caused by a busy schedule, try to rearrange your activities. Can you shorten your commute to work, or commit to getting at least seven hours of sleep per night? Take a careful look at how you spend your time to see if there is room for anything to budge.
  • If your sleep deprivation is due to a medical condition, treating the underlying condition will often resolve the problem.

For more serious condition, your doctor may also recommend other options, such as medication, to help you sleep.

How to Prevent Sleep Deprivation

There are several natural ways that can help to prevent or alleviate sleep deprivation. Try incorporating any of these sleep hygiene tips to consistently get a good night’s sleep.

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – even on weekends.
  • Exercise regularly, especially in the morning.
  • Avoid caffeine within six hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid large, heavy meals within three hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol in the last hour before bed.
  • Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and at a cool temperature.
  • Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows as they may improve your sleeping comfort and offer you the opportunity to sleep better.

If you can’t fall asleep or find yourself lying awake after 15 to 20 minutes, experts suggest that you get out of bed and do something else relaxing such as listening to music or reading a book, until you feel sleepy.

Some medications can make it harder to sleep, which can cause or worsen sleep deprivation. Talk to your doctor about medications that may interfere with sleep, including antidepressants, high blood pressure drugs, and some contraceptives.

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