Sleep deprivation is characterized as a condition that occurs when you do not get enough sleep for extended periods of time. However, sleep deficiency is a broader concept, as it typically occurs if you have one or more of the following:
- Although, you can sleep you don’t get enough sleep (sleep deprivation)
- You sleep at the wrong time of day (that is, you’re out of sync with your body’s natural clock)
- You do not sleep well or experience mixed types of sleep that your body is unable to use in a healthy manner.
- You have a sleep disorder that prevents you from getting enough sleep, interferences and or interruptions in sleep that causes or leads to poor quality sleep.
The amount of sleep needed to maintain healthy functioning varies by individual, age groups, current medical/mental conditions, etc. The amount of sleep a person needs also increases if he or she has been deprived of sleep the previous night or for several days. Getting too little sleep creates a “sleep debt,” which is much like being overdrawn at a bank. Eventually, your body will demand that the debt be repaid.
Most of us have been college students cramming for an exam, drinking lots and lots of coffee, and staying up for most of the night if not the entire night to get those last few hours of studying. It is debatable whether this approach is truly effective as cognition, processing of information, and memory do not work as well when there is a deficiency of sleep. Results from a recent study conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine indicate the effects of poor sleep can result in academic failures — poor grades, withdrawal from class, etc. — equal to that of students who binge drink or use marijuana. Interestingly, we don’t seem to adapt to getting less sleep than we need. While we may get used to a sleep-depriving schedule, our judgment, reaction time, and other functions are still impaired. Sleep deprivation impedes critical thinking and memory (especially since it’s during REM sleep, the second sleep cycle, that our brains convert memories from short to long term storage), leading to a marked decline in production and creative expression.
Sleep deprivation can be caused by several different psychological, emotional, and physical conditions. Sleep deprivation can be acute (coming on rapidly, but ending quickly) or chronic (lasts a long time, or recurs periodically). There are three main causes of sleep deprivation: choosing to sleep too little, lack of time to sleep, and medical conditions. Sleep deprivation can also be the result of increased stress level, anxiety, depression, medicinal side effects, etc. The stresses of daily life may interrupt, limit, or prevent our ability to sleep well, making it difficult to perform at our best.
However, it is important to realize that sleep deprivation is very often due to unrecognized sleep disorders. After a typical night’s sleep, you may not feel restored and refreshed and be sleepy during the day, but be totally unaware that you are sleep-deprived or have a sleep disorder.
Long term consequences of untreated sleep deprivation/disorders include:
- Increased stress/anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Cognitive impairment
- Memory issues
- Injury due to falling asleep, i.e., car accidents
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Irritability and other mood disorders
- Increased risk of heart disease and cancer
- Poor quality of life
- Increase your risk of dying from any cause
- Contribute to a pre-diabetic, insulin-resistant state
Sleep deprivation is a serious issue as we are now realizing that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. That’s above all legal limits for alcohol while driving. Predictably, 20% of automobile accidents are caused by nothing more than lack of sleep.