How to Know if You're Sleep Deprived
If you're like most people, you've probably felt tired at some point throughout the day. While a quick cup of coffee or brisk walk is enough to wake up some people, others struggle to remain alert or feel rested. If you feel like you're consistently not getting enough sleep and it's affecting your health, work or school performance, and alertness, you may be sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation affects men and women of all ages. It can be caused by sleep disruptions (like caring for a baby), changes in schedules (especially flexible schedules), or sleep disorders (some of which need medical treatment). If you feel like your exhaustion is more than one night's rest can fix, consider if you're sleep deprived.
Be aware of decreased cognitive function.This relates to things like your response speed, alertness, vigilance, and performance. It may affect your memory, your ability to make decisions, and your level of patience.If you find that you are slow to respond to stimuli (a loud sound, perhaps), that you have difficulty concentrating or understanding complex tasks, you are not alert, you begin making more mistakes, and you have difficulty with flexible thinking, you are likely suffering from sleep deprivation.
- Studies have found that medical personnel who work more than 24 hours at a particular time are more prone to making mistakes due to sleep deprivation.
Notice changes in your behavior.It's no surprise that a lack of sleep can cause irritability and changes in mood. You may actually develop a mood disorder if you're consistently sleep deprived. Disruptions in the sleep cycle have been strongly connected to depression and a reduced quality of life.
- You may also feel more anxious and lose your motivation to do simple everyday tasks.
- Sleep deprivation may resemble depression or anxiety. Patients report poor mood, irritability, low energy, decreased libido, poor judgment, and other signs of psychological dysfunction. These symptoms usually disappear when normal sleep is restored.
Consider your energy levels throughout the day.If you're sleep deprived, you may have trouble concentrating or paying attention. It may be harder for you to make decisions, remember things, or react. All of these can increase the number of mistakes you make and make you feel restless. No matter how hard you try, you feel fatigued throughout the day.
- While the purpose of sleep isn't completely understood, studies have shown that sleep energizes the brain.
- Most people experience an afternoon drop in energy levels, but a little caffeine or rest can help them regain alertness. If you find, however, that you feel like you're dragging throughout the entire day, you may be sleep deprived.
- Assess your level of fatigue after napping. Did taking naps used to refresh you and now they don't? If you feel like you're always groggy, even after resting, you be dealing with sleep deprivation.
Look for changes in your health.Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain and obesity. This is because your body releases appetite-regulating hormones while you sleep. Sleep is also important for processing glucose faster. Sleep deprivation can disrupt this, contributing to the development of type 2 diabetes. Pay attention to changes in your weight, appetite, and blood pressure. Changes may signal that your body is sleep deficient.
- Sleep deprivation can also raise your blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart attack. Sleep apnea has also been connected with heart disease.
- Lack of sleep may contribute to the development of hypertension, coronary artery disease, and heart attack.
- Consider if you gained weight since the start of the period you've been getting poor sleep. If so, your body may be reacting to sleep loss.
Consider your social life.If you find yourself frequently canceling plans with friends or family because you're too tired, you may be sleep deprived. While passing on a party isn't unusual, if you find yourself constantly avoiding social events this consequence of sleep deprivation can lead to a poor quality of life. Sleep deprivation and anxiety are closely connected, causing tension in family and social relationships.
- Your work life may also suffer since sleep deprivation can increase your risk of injury on the job, especially if it requires driving.
- For example, did you used to enjoy seeing friends and going to events? If you now dread the thought of leaving your house, or it just seems like too much work, you may be sleep deprived.
Keep a sleep log.Track important sleep information so that if you need to see a doctor, you can give details about your symptoms. Keep a log of when you sleep, how long of a stretch you slept, the quality of sleep, and whether or not you had trouble falling or staying asleep.
- You should also note how you felt throughout the day, including your energy level.
- Note whether your sleep seems to be impacted by outside factors, such as your diet or exercise routine.
Diagnosing Sleep Deprivation
Determine how much sleep you need.Each person has different sleep requirements. For example, adults over 65 years of age usually need less sleep. Pregnant women also experience changes in sleep needs (like requiring more sleep early in pregnancy and having difficulty sleeping towards the last trimester). In general, the National Sleep Foundation recommends:
- Older adults: seven to eight hours
- Adults (aged 18 to 64): seven to nine hours
- Teenagers (aged 13 to 17): eight to 10 hours
- School-aged kids (aged six to 13): nine to 11 hours
- Preschoolers (aged three to five): 10 to 13 hours
- Toddlers (aged one to two years): 11 to 14 hours
- Infants (aged four to 11 months): 12 to 15 hours
- Newborns (from birth to three months): 14 to 17 hours
Figure out what's causing your sleep deprivation.There may be an obvious duty or obligation, like caring for an infant or adult, that's causing the lack of sleep, especially if you work another job. Shift work can also cause sleep deprivation, especially if your hours are irregular. Or, there may be a medical condition depriving you of sleep. These sleep disorders include:
- Delayed sleep phase disorder
- Environmental sleep disorder
- Restless leg syndrome
- Psychophysiological insomnia
- Periodic limb movement disorder
Know when to see a doctor.If you are sleep deprived or feel overly tired, make a doctor's appointment as soon as you can. Once your doctor has determined why you're sleep deprived, you can begin to address the cause whether it's voluntary or a result of some medication you're on. Your doctor will also check to see if you're suffering from an underlying sleep disorder.
Consider if you have a sleep disorder.If your doctor suspects you have a sleep disorder, you may be referred to a sleep specialist for more testing. You'll probably need to participate in a sleep study where your sleep is monitored for problems. Some of the most common sleep disorders include:
- Restless Leg Syndrome (an irresistible urge to move the legs)
- Narcolepsy (which causes daytime drowsiness)
- Obstructive sleep apnea (pauses in breathing that can disrupt your sleep)
- Circadian rhythm sleep disorders, where you have trouble with sleep cycles or patterns (like Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, Non-24 Sleep Wake Disorder, and Shift Work Disorder)
Coping With Sleep Deprivation
Nap when you can.If you are sleep deprived and feel tired throughout the day, you'll need to cope. Although there are no medical treatments for sleep deprivation, studies suggest that napping is the most effective way to deal with sleep loss. Take naps of 30 minutes or less to make you feel more alert.
- Avoid taking long naps (over two hours long). These are harder to wake from and they can actually make you feel more tired.
Deal with insomnia.Studies have shown that insomniacs are actually kept up because they're hyper alert.For this reason, behavior therapies are usually effective in treating insomnia. To practice a behavioral therapy, you may learn how to relax, use light to relax yourself, and practice good bed habits.
- Some good bed habits include only using the bed for sleep and sex, having a comfortable sleep environment, and limiting the amount of time that you're laying awake in bed.
Take prescription sleep aids.If behavioral treatments don't work and you're becoming anxious about your sleep deprivation, your doctor may prescribe you a sleep aid. These medications (hypnotics) should only be used for a short period of time and in the lowest dose possible. Side effects of prescription sleep aids include complex behaviors, allergic reactions, dizziness, headache, memory problems, and prolonged drowsiness.
- You should never become reliant on a hypnotic medication to be able to sleep.
- Your doctor may determine that another medication you're taking is causing your sleeplessness. For example, some antidepressants can cause insomnia.It's important to discuss any medication you're currently taking with your doctor.
Consider using over-the-counter medication (OTCs).You can try taking an OTC medication. These generally aren't as effective as prescription hypnotics or sleep aids. But, they may contain antihistamines which can calm or relax you.
- You may want to use OTC medications if you're concerned about the side effects of prescription sleep aids. OTC medications are considered to be safe when used according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
Consider using caffeine.Use caffeine wisely. While some caffeine use can increase your alertness, you can actually develop a tolerance to it if you use it frequently. To cope with sleep deprivation, take 75 to 150 mg of caffeine early in the day. Avoid taking it later in the day, since caffeine may keep you up at night.
- For example, you might drink an 8 ounce cup of coffee around mid-morning. An 8 ounce coffee contains 95 to 200 mg of caffeine (while an 8 ounce cup of black tea contains 14 to 70 mg of caffeine).
- Avoid using caffeine too often. If you miss your daily caffeine intake when your body is expecting it, you can experience withdrawal symptoms like irritability and headache.
- Non-24 Sleep Wake Disorder is more common in the blind, but it can occur in the sighted as well. In non-24 Sleep Wake Disorder, a person does not sleep in cycles connected with night and day
Sources and Citations
- Barger LK, Ayas NT, Cade BE, et al. Impact of extended-duration shifts on medical errors, adverse events, and attentional failures. PLoS Med 2006; 3:e487.
- Sabanayagam C, Shankar A. Sleep duration and cardiovascular disease: results from the National Health Interview Survey. Sleep 2010; 33:1037.
Video: Signs of Sleep Deprivation
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