Apr 30, 2020

Dangers of Sleep Deprivation and What You Can Do About It

Dangers of Sleep Deprivation and What You Can Do

What is sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is a condition that occurs when a person doesn't get enough sleep. According to the NSF (National Sleep Foundation), adults (people aged 18 to 64 years) should sleep for 7 to 9 hours daily. Anyone aged 65 years and above should sleep for 7 to 8 hours daily. The requirements for sleep increase as age decreases. For instance, teenagers aged 14 to 17 should sleep for 8 to 10 hours, while school-age children aged 6 to 13 should sleep for 9 to 11 hours.

If a person sleeps less than the recommended hours for a prolonged period of time, they risk suffering from sleep deprivation. The seriousness of the condition varies depending on the number of days you have been sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation can be acute or chronic.

What causes sleep deprivation?

Several reasons can affect a person's ability to get the recommended amount of sleep on a daily basis. The reasons range from sleeping at the wrong time to lack of quality sleep. Sleeping disorders that prevent you from sleeping enough are also to blame.

Effects of sleep deprivation: Why is sleep deprivation dangerous?

33%+ of American adults are sleep deprived. While the condition is viewed as a norm due to work schedules and other lifestyle factors, the effects can be devastating. Some serious effects include:

  1. Increased type 2 diabetes risk

Research studies have linked sleep deprivation to poor glucose processing, which increases type 2 diabetes risks. Sleeping less than the recommended hours can impair glucose tolerance.

  1. Sleep deprivation compromises brain activity/functions

Research studies have linked lack of enough sleep to psychosis. Sleep deprivation can make the brain incapable of interpreting emotional events in the right perspective resulting in uncontrolled and unsuitable responses to events. The condition can also reduce brain activity resulting in poor cognitive performance and alertness. Sleep deprivation alters the work of the thalamus and prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for alertness, attention, and high order cognitive processes.

The link between lack of enough sleep and compromised brain function is clear. The body needs NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep to "turn off" neurotransmitters and allow their receptors to rest. This in turn allows receptors to perform optimally. When brain receptors are performing as they should, a person doesn't have problems regulating their mood or learning. There's also a link between REM sleep deprivation and clinical depression. Sleep is also required for damaged brain cells to be repaired.

  1. Compromised growth

There are studies linking sleep deprivation to suppressed growth hormones. This effect highlights why children should get adequate amounts of quality sleep. Lack of enough sleep also compromises the body's ability to handle stress and other functions like digestion, immune system responses, and energy usage.

  1. Increased obesity risks

There is evidence suggesting that sleep deprivation increases appetite. Several studies link obesity and sleep deficiency. Sleeping for less hours than you should can interfere with the work of hormones responsible for regulating appetite and metabolism. One such hormone is leptin, which is responsible for "telling" the brain when a person is full. Sleep deprivation is proven to decrease leptin levels resulting in an uncontrollable appetite. Obesity risks are higher in sleep-deprived young to middle-aged adults.

  1. Increased accident risks

When you are sleep deprived, fatigue sets in, introducing other risks. For instance, your chances of causing an accident while driving are higher if you are sleep deprived. Clear signs that you are sleep deprived while driving according to the NSF include daydreaming, drifting from your lane, rolling down your window, or turning up your radio to maintain alertness. Sleepiness is responsible for many fatal accidents. Being sleep deprived for just a day can make judgment and tasks like solving simple math problems challenging.

What can you do about sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation may not really be a condition but a symptom of underlying sleep disorders like insomnia. A person who has insomnia has trouble falling/staying asleep. The reasons for this can vary from simple reasons like poor sleep hygiene to underlying health problems.

Work on sleep hygiene to get enough sleep

If you have challenges falling or staying asleep because of poor sleep habits, you can make simple changes in your bedtime routine to ensure you get as much sleep as possible. For instance, you can invest in a good mattress if you think your mattress is uncomfortable. Mattress toppers can solve mattress-related sleeping problems minus the high cost of a new mattress. You can also invest in night glow-lights to make it easier to fall asleep. If you can't sleep because of outdoor street lights, a blackout curtain can create the "perfect darkness" for deep sleep.

If sleeping disorders like snoring are keeping you from having enough quality sleep, you can buy an anti-snore device. Comfort-related sleep deprivation can be solved by making your bedroom environment perfect for getting uninterrupted sleep. Climate control gadgets can help you create the perfect room temperature for sleeping. If you aren't sure if you are getting enough sleep, invest in a sleep tracker and get to the bottom of your sleep deprivation problems.

It also helps to watch what you eat. Habits like taking naps during the day, overeating and drinking coffee before bedtime can make it impossible to get enough sleep. It also helps to have a consistent sleep schedule i.e., sleep and wake up the same time daily and stop using smartphones, laptops, and watching TV in bed or just before bed.


Taking the above actions (practicing good sleep hygiene) can solve most sleep deprivation issues. Having enough sleep for a day can solve acute sleep deprivation problems. Chronic deprivation that has underlying medical causes may require a doctor's attention.

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is a common treatment from chronic sleep deprivation. The treatment utilizes cognitive therapy, sleep restriction, stimulus control, relaxation, and sleep hygiene discussed above to treat serious effects of sleep deprivation. In more severe cases, chronic drug therapy can be used.

You can avoid being sleep deprived just by practicing sleep hygiene (good sleep practices and habits discussed above).

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