Sleep Deprivation Occurs if you Adopt One or More of the Following:

  • Insufficient sleep
  • You sleep outside of your normal pattern of sleep, this can be any time of the day but different to your bodies internal clock (known as circadian rhythm).
  • You have broken sleep, enough that prevents you reaching certain stages of sleep (will be explained later), these stages of sleep being a human requirement, much like breathing oxygen or drinking water.
  • You have a sleep disorder, like excessive daytime sleeping (EDS) or Insomnia (difficulty in falling to sleep).

Some of the Dangers Attributed to Sleep Deprivation:

  • Sleep deprivation can in extreme cases increase a sufferers risk of death.
  • Sleep deprivation contributes to physical injuries, to self and others, due to cognitive distortions.
  • Mental health conditions attributed to sleep deprivation include stress, depression and high anxiety.
  • Physical health problems attributed to sleep deprivation include hypertension (high blood pressure), excessive weight gain, diabetes and problems associated with the heart and kidneys.

Preventing Sleep Deprivation

Earlier we mentioned certain stages of sleep.  There are basically two stages of sleep, these stages are REM (rapid eye movement) where we normally dream, also NON REM, a deeper state of sleep.  These two stages typically taking place three or four times during a period of sleep.  In order for us to function at our best, we need to be aware of sleep deprivation and make sure that we do three things:

  • First thing we need to do, to prevent sleep deprivation, is make sure we get enough sufficient sleep.
  • Secondly, to prevent sleep deprivation, we need to make sure that we get the right sorts of sleep, both REM and NON REM.
  • Third thing to prevent sleep deprivation is, we need to make sure we are going to sleep at the right time, the time our bodies internal clock ensures we are ready for sleep (circadian rhythm)

If these needs aren’t met, the chances of sleep deprivation taking hold of us are quite high.  Sleep deprivation affects all aspects of our personal and professional lives.  Sleep deprivation affects our cognitive processes, for instance in decision making, when trying to focus, difficulty in learning and poor coordination.  Sleep deprivation also clouds our judgement, especially with regard to other peoples feelings and reactions.  Sleep deprivation increases potential for accidents in the workplace, accidents on the road while driving, and reduces our awareness of safety (safety for ourselves and the safety of other people).  In children, sleep deprivation may appear as bad behaviour, hyperactivity and inattentiveness.  Sleep deprivation in the elderly often attribute to broken bones, because of balance impairment and an increase in falls.

How Does the Body Prepare For Sleep?

With research showing that sleep deprivation is directly responsible for poor mental and physical health, and attributes to a poor quality of life, it’s crucial that we have the three elements of sleep that our bodies need.  Plenty of sleep, the right sorts (REM & NON REM) of quality sleep and at the right time.

Our best weapon against sleep deprivation is our bodies internal clock.  It’s our internal clock that determines when we should be awake and when we’re prepared for sleep.  Known as the circadian rhythm, there are two parts that interact with our body.  One part is a chemical (Adenosine) is increasingly released within the brain.  This function is in direct response with how long we have been awake.  The longer we’re awake the larger the amount of adenosine is present.  The effect of adenosine is to convince the body that sleep is needed, while you sleep the chemical adenosine is naturally broken down.

The second part of this interaction is a synchronisation between our body clock and our surrounding environment, for instance with day light and darkness.  Light signals received through your eyes interact with a part of the brain that tells your internal clock when it’s daytime or nighttime.  Your internal clock then reacts accordingly, controlling the release of a hormone called melatonin, when the brain signals its nighttime.  This hormone melatonin signals the body to prepare for sleep, melatonin levels increasing as the night gets longer, ever convincing the body that sleep is required.

As daylight comes, signals from the brain interact with your internal clock, which then operates, controlling another flow of a hormone called cortisol, this hormone prepares the body for waking up from sleep.

All these naturally occurring bodily reactions to our internal clock, and brain functions are also influenced by artificial light, for example from computer screens and TV’s.  These artificial lights do interfere with the natural process of sleep, and can lead us toward sleep deprivation.

How Much Sleep is Needed, to Prevent Sleep Deprivation?

To make sure you don’t suffer from sleep deprivation, this is the recommended average daily amount of sleep, that we should all be getting:

  • As a general rule, the younger you are, the more sleep you need.
  • Adults of all sexes, should be looking to get 8 hours (average) of sleep in a 24 hour period.
  • Teenagers of all sexes, should be looking at between 8 & 10 hours (average) of sleep in a 24 hour period.  More sleep needed due to physical growth and mental development, still taking place.
  • Young children (pre school), need between 10 & 14 hours (average) of sleep in a 24 hour period, also often taking naps during the day.  Again more sleep needed for physical growth and mental development.
  • Newborns need more sleep still, with on average, around 16 hours of sleep needed in a 24 hour period.  Again for physical growth and mental development.

Sleep Deprivation is Harmful to the Brain

What happens during your sleep, has a part to play in how you feel when you’re awake.  When asleep your body is hard at work maintaining physical and mental health, with growth and development also being maintained in children and young adults.  The brain needs you to sleep, so that it can format and reboot (much like a computer).  This prepares you for the following day, giving you the best functions possible, in learning, attention, creativity, problem solving, making good decisions etc.

Sleep deprivation is harmful in many ways, so we all need to get plenty of sleep to perform at our best.

There are many habits that people adopt, in order to beat sleep deprivation, for example napping.  Although having a nap does give a boost in energy and cognitive levels, this is only short lived and it doesn’t give all the benefits that come from a good nights sleep.  Napping could also be a sign of sleep deprivation.  Another sign of sleep deprivation could be sleeping longer, during days that you aren’t working.  As well as sleeping longer during days off from work, many people go to bed later, so also get up much later.  The problem with this sleeping pattern, is that it interferes with the bodies internal clock, upsetting the natural rhythm of sleeping and waking.

All these sleep habits, as well as being signs of sleep deprivation, are also a path that leads to sleep deprivation.

Getting more sleep, will not only prevent sleep deprivation, but it will enhance and benefit your health (physical, mental), make you more mentally aware, give you more physical energy, increase your attention, improve your problem solving skills and so on……..getting more sleep could even make you happier!