6 mins

27 April 2022

What are the Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep plays an essential role in keeping our body and mind healthy and recharged. Without enough hours of sleep, you’ll start feeling the symptoms and effects of sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation is a condition caused by inadequate quantity and quality of sleep. This condition is common among teens and adults. According to the National Health Service (NHS), teenagers (ages 13-18) need at least eight to 10 hours of sleep. Meanwhile, adults (ages 19-60 years) need six to nine hours of sleep per night. But various studies have revealed that around 33% of teens and 63% of adults in the UK are not getting enough sleep, which could lead to many health problems if not treated or resolved right.

It’s important for people to realise how important sleep is for their physical and mental health. Treating sleep deprivation early on can help you live a healthier life and become more productive in the day. 

Dr. Verena Senn

Sleep deprivation is caused by a myriad of factors, one of which is unhealthy lifestyle habits such as excessive use of phones and social media late at night and late coffee consumption. Data shows that people spend an average of 145 minutes or 2.4 hours on social media. But there are cases where social media users exceed that number due to fears of social exclusion. Instead of sleeping early after a hard day at work, they spend the rest of their time talking with their friends, watching videos, and more, leading them to lose hours of sleep.

When it comes to coffee consumption, a study found that at least 400mg of caffeine taken up in the afternoon or six hours before bedtime can disrupt sleep. Coffee blocks the adenosine receptor in the body, a function that promotes sleepiness. Because of this function, people are recommended to drink the beverage in the morning so that they’ll feel energised and alert for work.

Sleeping disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome also contribute to sleep deprivation because they reduce deep or REM sleep or cause frequent awakenings. Similarly, chronic pain or medical conditions such as heart, lung or kidney diseases make people significantly uncomfortable, robbing them of the chance to get a good night’s sleep.

Environmental factors such as temperature, noise, light, bed comfort, and electronic distractions play a big part in how much―or how little―time you can get for sleep. For example, disturbing sounds coming from traffic, neighbours, or your own home has been proven to keep you awake at night and even cause your body to secrete more stress hormones. Research shows that intermittent sounds such as occasional honking or revving cars are more disturbing than continuous noise.

Sleep deprivation and insomnia are often interchanged because they’re similarly caused by the lack of sleep, but they’re more different than what we normally know.

Sleep deprivation refers to the loss of sleep due to external factors that reduce opportunities to sleep. On another hand, insomnia refers to the inability to sleep or remain asleep despite having opportunities to do so. In other words, a sleep deprived person can just as easily rest when they don’t have work while people suffering from insomnia will still have troubling sleeping despite having the time and resources to do so.

Some adults may experience short-term or acute insomnia―which lasts for days or weeks―due to stress. Meanwhile, others may experience long-term insomnia―which lasts for months or even years―due to underlying medical conditions or certain medications and stimulants.

Understanding the differences between sleep deprivation and insomnia can help you determine if you just need to change your sleeping habits or undergo professional treatment like cognitive behavioural therapy.

Sleep deprivation manifests itself and affects your body in many ways. For one, sleep deprivation weakens your immunity because it prevents your body from producing cytokines, a group of proteins, peptides or glycoproteins that regulate immunity, inflammation, and the development of blood cells. Sleep helps the body produce proinflammatory and Th1 cytokines, which kill intracellular parasites and perpetuate autoimmune responses.Without cytokines, you’ll then be prone to infectious diseases such as the common cold when you get less than six hours of sleep.

Not getting enough sleep also leads to weight gain. Research shows that sleep deprived people have lower levels of leptin, a hormone that inhibits hunger, but higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. Sleep deprived people also had increased BMI compared to people who slept regularly.

Mood swings are another common symptom among sleep deprived people. Lack of sleep causes the amygdala function in our brains to be more active, thus stimulating feelings of anger, aggression, and other negative emotions. People who get enough hours of sleep were seen exhibiting fewer emotional outbursts and aggressive behaviours. Sleep deprivation also prevents synapses in our brain to form new circuits and record memories, leading to impaired cognitive functions such as memory loss and poor concentration.

Lastly, people who lack enough hours of sleep are at risk for diabetes and heart disease. Several studies have shown that sleep deprived people have decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Meaning, the insulin in their body failed to move glucose or sugar from their bloodstream to their cells for energy. This then results in increased sugar levels, which can be detrimental to their health in the long run.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms and effects, it’s time for you to modify your lifestyle and sleeping habits before it gets out of hand. 

First, think of sleep as an important medicine that can treat an illness. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it to regulate your body’s sleep cycles. Try to also wake up at the same time every day to build your desire for sleep throughout wakefulness. Waking up late will cause you to sleep late, which will eventually throw off your sleep cycle when done repeatedly.

Next, avoid drinking coffee in the afternoon or at night. Limit yourself to water, tea, or milk before going to sleep. Similarly, avoid eating heavy meals a few hours before bedtime as it can slow down your metabolism and lead to weight gain.

Another tip is to try to set a calming environment to help you fall asleep fast. Dim the lights, put on relaxing sounds, and turn off your phone. The blue light from devices prevents your body from releasing melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. 

Last, but certainly not least, exercise regularly to relax your muscles and eventually help you fall asleep faster at night.

Sleep deprivation is often easy to resolve with just the right discipline and understanding of how sleep affects your body. If you have trouble sleeping, try analysing your habits and see which ones you can change to help you get the rest that you deserve.

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