Sleep is probably best described as the loss of awareness of what is happening around us. The brain itself never sleeps and still continues to function, although the brainwave rhythms are altered and gradually slow as we approach the deeper stages of sleep. Sleep deprivation exists when we are not getting the sleep we need. This varies from person to person, the average adult requires six to nine hours per night, but some do well on much less. Kids and teenagers require more sleep than adults. If we feel energetic during the day and do not experience daytime sleepiness, then we are probably receiving adequate sleep.
Public awareness of fitness and nutrition has grown over the past few years but unfortunately little is known about the very important subject of sleep disorders. They are not included in general medical training either so the lack of knowledge is perpetuated. If drowsiness were the sole disadvantage of sleep deprivation, it would not be such a serious condition. Unfortunately the consequences are many and some of them quite worrying. There are both behavioral and physical symptoms.
Why do we suffer with sleep deprivation? Sometimes its because we’re so busy that we just don’t have sufficient time to get the rest we need. Or maybe its because we have insomnia or one of the other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome. Or we may be a shift worker who is forced to sleep during the day and our sleep is not restful. Whatever the reason is, if we don’t have adequate sleep we create a “sleep debt” which leads to some or all of the symptoms shown below. These range from the inconvenient to the downright dangerous so if you can see yourself in the symptoms below, its worth trying to establish what is causing your sleep deprivation we can then work out and how to address it.
Stress and anxiety
This can be a vicious cycle as while stress can actually cause our lack of sleep, it is also a result of it. Fortunately it can be dealt with using the right procedures. We’ll look at the possibilities and find out what’s causing it and the correct solution for you.
Anger, irritability and depression
These are all stress related and they can cause relationship and social problems. The National Sleep Foundation has said that anger due to sleep deprivation may be one of the contributing factors to road rage. Depression, while remaining a complex condition may be described as anger turned inwards. One answer to these problems may simply be more or better sleep.
Lack of focus and difficulty in concentrating
The brain looses function as a result of sleep deprivation. Students in particular fit into this category as learning requires intense concentration. A study has found that from the age of puberty, the need for sleep increases until adulthood.
Short term memory loss
Memory is affected by lack of sleep, this is also a problem for those trying to study and for those learning new job skills.
Impaired ability to drive a motor vehicle
Two reasons for this – one is because concentration is affected, the second because the danger of falling asleep at the wheel is high. The same goes for anyone who is in charge of machinery in the workplace. Sleep deprivation can also cause blurring of peripheral vision. Altogether quite a deadly cocktail. The danger has been assessed as being close to that of someone who is affected by alcohol!
Suppression of the immune system
This one is a worry as it leaves us vulnerable to every infection that happens to be around at the time. People who are sleep deprived get more colds and flu than those that are not. Lack of sleep can make you sick!
Probably enough reasons there to convince us to take action to change our sleeping habits! If lack of time is keeping us up late, something else may have to be sacrificed to make sure we get the rest we need. If a sleep disorder is making your life a misery, don’t despair! There is always something we can do and knowledge on the subject is improving all the time.