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What is Sleep Deprivation? [Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment]

“Work eight hours and sleep eight hours and make sure that they are not the same hours.”

Those are the famous words of the prominent oil magnate T. Boone Pickens.

We all know about the eight-hour sleeping rule, but getting a good night’s sleep is sometimes impossible. The next day, all we can think about is going back to bed in the evening and catching up on sleep. As a result of sleep deprivation, we are tired and unable to function properly.

But what is sleep deprivation exactly? And is a single sleepless night enough to make us sleep-deprived?

Table of Contents

What Is Sleep Deprivation?
What Causes Sleep Deprivation?
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation?
What Can Sleep Deprivation Do to Your Body?
How to Treat Sleep Deprivation
The Final Word

What Is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation happens when a lack of sleep prevents us from being alert and fully awake during the day. Depending on how long it goes on, it can be both acute and chronic. As such, even one night of poor sleep is enough for the symptoms of exhaustion to kick in.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Not all people need the same amount of sleep to wake up refreshed the next morning. The recommended sleep time varies based on your age.

Here is how much sleep people of different ages need, according to the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Newborns: 14-17 hours
  • Infants: 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers: 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers: 10-13 hours
  • Schoolchildren: 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers: 8-10 hours
  • Adults up to 64 years: 7-9 hours
  • Adults over 65 years: 7-8 hours

As you can see, adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night. Anything less than seven hours may result in unrefreshing sleep and thus lead to chronic sleep deprivation.

How Prevalent Is Sleep Deprivation?

According to the CDC, sleep deprivation is surprisingly common in the United States.

At any given time, more than 30% of adults get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. What’s more, in some states and counties, this problem affects almost 50% of adults. Factors like gender, age, and race don’t seem to play a major part in this problem.

But the situation is much more alarming with high school students.

According to these statistics, almost 70% of them are dealing with sleep deprivation on a regular basis. The problem seems to be more prevalent in females (71.3%) than in males (66.4%). Also, research shows that deprivation of sleep becomes more common as they reach 11th and 12th grade.

What Causes Sleep Deprivation?

Depending on its cause, sleep deprivation can be voluntary or involuntary. It can sometimes be related to a specific sleep disorder.

Voluntary sleep deprivation occurs when you start cutting your sleeping time short to make time for other activities. Due to their busy daily lives, some people believe that sleeping for eight hours each night is a waste of time. They then intentionally sacrifice a few hours of sleep each day to make room for other pursuits.

But voluntary sleep deprivation can sometimes be unintentional. For example, it can happen when you have to work late or don’t have fixed working hours. It can also occur when you have to make time to tend to your child or a sick family member.

bad sleep

As a result, you’ll feel sleepy and tired throughout the week. When the weekend comes, you may stay in bed for longer than recommended to make up for the lost sleep.

The medical term for this condition is behaviorally-induced insufficient sleep syndrome or BIISS for short.

Involuntary sleep deprivation is usually the result of an underlying medical problem. There are many health conditions that can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at night. They include depression, chronic illnesses, as well as the potentially fatal sleep apnea.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation?

The first symptoms of sleep deprivation include fatigue and daytime sleepiness accompanied by frequent yawning.

But this condition can also affect brain function in a number of ways. As such, you may have trouble studying or focusing on your tasks at work. Finding motivation can thus prove difficult and you may even start forgetting things.

sleep deprivation

Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can seriously impact your mood. It might make you more irritable, lethargic, and prone to stress and anxiety. In some cases, sleep deprivation may even lead to depression.

What Can Sleep Deprivation Do to Your Body?

Sleep deprivation doesn’t only have a negative effect on your brain but your whole body, as well. If you don’t take steps to resolve the problem, it may potentially contribute to some serious health conditions.

Here are some of the dangerous ways a chronic lack of sleep can affect your body:

How to Treat Sleep Deprivation

In most cases, you can stop sleep deprivation by restoring healthy sleeping habits. This means going to bed before midnight and getting up at the crack of dawn. At the same time, you should avoid eating, drinking coffee, as well as using computers and other gadgets for at least a few hours before going to sleep. This is a simple and straightforward treatment.

If that doesn’t help solve your problems, you should visit your doctor. They would usually recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as a possible solution. This method will help you make note of disruptive patterns in your behavior and find the motivation to change them.

sleep deprivation

But if none of these options help, you may need to take medication to fall asleep more easily. Some of these meds you can only get with your doctor’s prescription, while some are available over-the-counter (OTC). Even if you opt for an OTC drug, you should still consult your doctor first, as the medication may cause some unwanted side effects.

The Final Word

Failing to address your sleeping problems could put your overall health at serious risk. So if sleep deprivation seems to be taking a toll on your productivity and your health, start solving the problem by paying your doctor a visit. They will look at the symptoms, identify the causes, and recommend the best course of action going forward.