If you feel you don’t have enough time for quality sleep, you’re not alone. Many people struggle to fit a quality eight hours of sleep into their schedule.
Sleep deprivation could be a silent killer and it is important to remember that rest is just as impactful to your health as diet and exercise. Although you may be able to recover from a bad night’s sleep relatively quickly, the negative effects of long-term sleep deprivation can plague you for decades. By thinking about ways to change your sleep patterns now, you can prevent health problems in the future.
How Does Sleep Deprivation Happen?
Sleep deprivation is at its most dangerous when it happens slowly over time. Sometimes this is called chronic sleep debt.
Sleep debt is the difference between how much sleep your body has gotten versus how much it needs to function optimally. The greater the sleep debt, the worse you perform on daily tasks.
Acute sleep debt (or short-term sleep debt) is the sleep debt you have acquired over the past 14 days. Maybe you’ve had to stay up late to work on a project with an approaching deadline. Perhaps an illness has kept you up and prevented you from getting quality sleep.
While it is easier to recover from acute sleep deprivation, it’s also easier to fall into a pattern of acute sleep deprivation. While you can take naps or go to bed earlier to make up your sleep debt, you should make sure you don’t fall into the habit of running on less and less sleep. People tend to try running on the least amount of sleep possible, and this can be a slippery slope into sleep debt.
Once you have fallen into a pattern of acute sleep deprivation, you are more likely to enter into chronic sleep debt. As you become distracted and begin to fill your free time with more commitments, the window you allow yourself for sleep can shrink.
Chronic sleep deprivation means you’ve missed the necessary amount of sleep your body needs for months, years, or even decades. To correct this, you should determine how much sleep your body actually needs, and prioritize making up that debt to reverse the effects of sleep deprivation.
Sleep Deprivation and the Brain
While sleep deprivation impacts every part of your body, it takes the biggest toll on the brain. It’s also more difficult to detect this toll on the brain than on other parts of the body, and some of the worst effects are not noticeable until your sleep debt is quite severe.
Here are some of the most concerning ways sleep deprivation can affect your brain.
Your concentration can suffer when you are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation can impair judgment and lower alertness. Your brain will be less capable of learning new information as well.
Scarily enough, someone who has gone without sleep for 18 hours can have the same lowered cognitive functioning as someone who has a 0.05% blood alcohol level.
Think about the long-term effects of having poor concentration. It will take you longer to learn new skills, advance in your career, and pursue opportunities in your life.
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It’s probably not surprising that people who are sleep deprived have a harder time controlling their emotions. They experience more severe mood swings as well. There is a reason why children are sent to take naps when they are emotional; they usually just need some rest.
Poor sleep can also exacerbate existing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Even if it’s not a mental condition, lack of sleep can make someone more susceptible to feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, and stress.
Sleep deprivation affects memory in two ways; it impacts your 1) ability to absorb new information and 2) ability to retain information.
When you try to learn something in a sleep deprived state, your brain is less likely to absorb the information in the first place. When you try to remember information you’ve learned in a sleep deprived state, your brain is less likely to recall information.
You’ve probably experienced what it’s like to try to recall something when you’re tired. Over time, this can do a number on your memory.
4. Alzheimer’s Disease
Sleep deprivation (even losing just one night of sleep) can lead to an increase in the protein that causes Alzheimer’s disease.
In individuals who are susceptible to the disease, sleep deprivation can drastically increase the likelihood of Alzheimer’s. With such illnesses, it’s much easier to prevent the disease than it is to treat it later.
Other Devastating Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Though chronic sleep deprivation takes a deep (and often irreversible) toll on the brain, sleep deprivation can severely affect other parts of the body too.
Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, a weakened immune system, a greater susceptibility to injury, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
The negative effects of sleep deprivation can be severe, but sleep insufficiency is so common that health researchers have labeled it as a public health epidemic. For individuals who are already susceptible to certain genetic conditions, sleep deprivation can exacerbate these health problems.
The Bottom Line
Although you may be able to recover from a bad night’s sleep relatively quickly, the negative effects of long-term sleep deprivation can plague you for decades. Though the negative effects of sleep deprivation might scare you, you cannot simply ignore them. By thinking about ways to change your sleep patterns now, you can prevent health problems in the future.
If you need help creating these habits, speak to one of our life coaches. They can help you create healthy habits that fit your lifestyle.
Have you suffered from acute or chronic sleep deprivation? How did you recover? Let us know in the comments!