Weekly Wellness: How to identify (and avoid) sleep deprivation
COLUMBIA - Am I just tired or am I truly sleep deprived?
Now that school is back in session, our schedules may have changed a bit – some for the better, some might be a bit more challenging. With these changes can come some alterations to your sleep. Maybe you’re not sleeping well. Maybe you’re not sleeping enough. In either case, chronic sleep deprivation can significantly affect your health, your performance, your safety, your weight and (potentially) your finances.
Whatever the reason for your sleep deprivation (i.e. daily stresses, medical issues, work), we need to recognize the issues and do what we can to fix them. If you wake after a typical night’s sleep and you do not feel restored or refreshed or you feel sleepy during the day, you may have an issue that needs attention.
Short term issues with sleep deprivation are:
- Decreased Performance and Alertness: Reducing your sleep by as little as 90 minutes for one night can result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%
- Memory and Cognitive Impairment: Decreased alertness and daytime sleepiness can impair your memory and your ability to think and process information.
- Stress Your Relationships: Disruption of a bed partner’s sleep may cause significant problems (i.e. separate bedrooms, conflicts, moodiness).
- Poor Quality of Life: You may be unable to participate in certain activities that require sustained attention.
- Risk of Occupational Injuries: Excessive sleepiness contributes to more than twice the risk of occupational injuries.
- Risk of Automobile Injuries: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 crashes, 71,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities.
Long term issues with sleep disorders (if left untreated) can be associated with serious medical illnesses:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack/Heart failure
- Mental health issues (i.e. depression)
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Mental impairment
- Fetal/childhood growth retardation
Studies show an increased mortality risk for people reporting less than 6 – 7 hours of sleep per night. Sleep disturbance is also one of the leading predictors of institutionalization in the elderly, and severe insomnia triples the mortality risk in elderly men.
How can we deal with (and possibly avoid) sleep deprivation? Here are some simple tips:
- Avoid napping during the day
- Get regular exercise (allowing 3 – 4 hours before sleep unless it’s something gentle like restorative yoga)
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants later in the day
- Create a wind-down routine (i.e. reading a book, listening to calming music, taking a bath)
- Make your bedroom dark, cooler and quiet
- Avoid screens with blue light (i.e. phones, e-book devices, computers, etc)
If you find yourself lying in bed worrying about things, try to make a to-do list or journal to get it out of your head.
If you find yourself unable to fall asleep, get up and do something calming and restful until you feel sleepy (rather than lying in bed getting more and more frustrated).
If you’ve tried all of these things and you’re still struggling with a healthy sleep pattern, contact your physician.