Are you someone who struggles to get to sleep at night? Do you wake up regularly and spend the rest of the following day yawning and wishing it was time to go to bed again?
If you’re nodding your head, the chances are that you’re suffering from sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation isn’t a joke, and it isn’t something to take lightly. When you regularly don’t get enough sleep, considered to be around 8 hours per night for an adult, your brain starts to be affected. Of course, when your brain is affected, your entire body is affected too.
Sleep deprivation happens when you don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. One night of poor sleep isn’t going to cause you a huge problem, although you may be irritable and a little tired the next day. Usually, in this case, by the time the following night comes around, you fall into a deep slumber and then start to feel better. When this type of deprivation happens over a long period of time, it can start to affect quality of life, mental health, physical health, and can also increase your risk factors for serious disease, such as diabetes and heart disease.
What Happens to The Brain When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
The brain is the first part of your body to be affected by lack of sleep, and you’ll feel the effects across your entire body! Not getting enough sleep causes your brain to perceive your surroundings and situations slightly differently, which can increase your risk of developing depression and anxiety. There is also a hugely increased risk of accidents when you’re sleep deprived, because your brain isn’t as sharp and focused as it would normally be. How many times have you heard of a driver falling asleep at the wheel and crashing a car? This is what can happen when you don’t get enough sleep over a long period of time.
In addition, when you don’t get enough sleep over period of time, you build up a debt, a sleep debt. This debt can take a long time to pay back, and it may take a period of time before your alertness and focus returns back to normal. Whilst paying back this sleep debt, it’s tempting to simply have long lay ins at the weekend and try and sleep during the day, but this is actually doing more harm than good. It’s important to have a regular sleeping pattern, e.g. you go to bed around the same time every night, and your body will then fall into step and you’ll wake up around the same time every morning. When you throw in day time naps and long lay ins, you’re confusing your body clock completely, and therefore your brain function too.
The brain also starts to change the way it releases hormones and chemicals. For instance, when you’re sleep deprived you’re more likely to gain weight. The reason is because the two chemicals which the brain releases to control hunger and to stop you eating when you’re full (ghrelin and leptin) are altered when you’re sleep deprived. This basically means you don’t recognise when you’re full, and you’ll feel hunger in general. A recipe for weight gain.
The Main Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation
You might think this is obvious, surely you’re just doing to feel tired, but that’s not the end of the story. When you’re sleep deprived, you might not realise the damage that is being done to your body. Sleep isn’t a luxury thing, it’s something your body needs on a daily basis, in large amounts. When your body doesn’t get it, untoward symptoms are bound to come your way.
In this case, the main symptoms of sleep deprivation are:
- Feeling tired during the day
- Yawning a lot
- Feeling moody and being agitated or snappy with those around you
- Lack of energy, feeling fatigued
- Feeling down or depressed
- Not being able to concentrate or focus, feeling fuzzy in your brain
- Not being able to understand something new, e.g. if you’re shown something for the first time, you may have problems getting the hang of it
- Being forgetful of things you would normally remember
- Total lack of motivation
- Dropping things and being clumsy, you might stumble or trip more often
- Feeling more hungry, and craving things that are high in carbohydrates, e.g. fast food, pizza, bread, etc
- A reduction in sex drive
In addition to these physical symptoms, you’re not going to look your best when you’re tired either! Red eyes, a ‘drawn’ expression, bags and dark circles under your eyes, a lack of a smile, these are all appearance-related symptoms of someone who is sleep deprived.
How Does Sleep Loss Affect The Rest of The Body?
The brain is the most impacted part of the body when it comes to not getting enough sleep, but the story doesn’t end there. The immune system is very badly affected by a lack of sleep, and it can easily cause you to catch all the bugs and viruses are that flying around at that current time. You’re more likely to become sick, and as a result, you’re far less likely to be able to recover quickly. You may find that you pick up several colds, one after the other, and feel ‘run down’. Many people start to develop cold sores and other immune system-related problems.
There is some evidence to suggest that people who are sleep deprived also have a greater risk of developing respiratory diseases, even if they’ve never suffered from this type of problem before. In addition, diabetes is an increased risk to think about too. The body releases more insulin when it is feeling tired, and that means more chance of the body storing fat, and therefore a greater risk of type II diabetes in particular.
The heart isn’t unaffected by sleep deprivation either. More pressure and strain is put on the heart when someone isn’t getting enough sleep over a long period of time. Remember, this isn’t likely to be the case if you have one or two restless nights, but when the problem is ongoing, the risk factors mount up and potential problems increase.
When we sleep, the body is busy healing and strengthening itself, and one task that occurs whilst we’re in the land of nod is that our heart vessels are rebuilding and healing. When we don’t get enough sleep, this process doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen as well. This means your heart is weaker. Inflammation levels are likely to be higher during sleep deprivation, so overall you have a higher risk factor for any type of disease which is linked to the cardiovascular system, including heart disease and even a possible heart attack.
Sleep is a Vital Part of Life
Not many people realize the seriousness of not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. We tend to assume that sleep is a luxury item, something we get when we can, and if we don’t get it, we have to simply put up and shut up. That’s really not how it should be. Sleep is an important part of the body’s ability to function normally and heal itself. Just like breathing is a vital tool for life, so is sleep, simply in a different way.
How can you expect your brain to do the highly complex tasks it carries out every minute of the day when you’re not giving it the rest to be able to cope? There isn’t one single person on this planet who can live a healthy life with less than 7 hours sleep on a regular basis. They may tell you ‘oh I can manage with 5 hours a night and I’m fine’, but the truth of the matter is that their body is fighting harder than it needs to simply to survive, and they’re snapping at everyone who annoys them even slightly!
To be fit, healthy, and for your brain to be focused and concentrated, you need to make sure you get enough sleep. If you’re finding it difficult to relax enough to sleep, or you’re struggling perhaps with a sleep condition, it’s a good idea to have a chat with your doctor and see if there are any techniques he or she can recommend to you, as part of a tailored treatment plan. Never be scared to go and talk to a doctor about a sleep problem, they are not going to laugh at you and say ‘oh I don’t sleep either!’, they’re going to help you, because sleep is an important part of a healthy and sustainable life.
By placing more importance on rest and relaxation, cutting our caffeine drinks, and avoiding too much stress and stimulation before bed, you will find it far easier to relax enough to fall asleep every night. If you can make a habit of this, your body will form a regular pattern, and sleep deprivation will become a thing of the very distance past.