Are you sleep deprived? Find out how you can tell and what to do about it
With approximately 7.5 million Brits only achieving five hours of sleep or less on average, sleep deprivation is far more common than you may think.
Consistent lack of sleep can become a threat to our mental and physical health if not addressed. Sleep expert, Jasmin Lee at EachNight Mattresses reveals the signs that you may be suffering from sleep deprivation and the ways you can combat it.
What actually is sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation happens when you don’t get enough sleep consistently over time. It could be from going to bed late and waking up early or frequently waking up throughout the night and having a disruptive sleep.
The short-term effect of this is feeling moody and struggling to concentrate throughout the day. However, the long-term effects of sleep deprivation have been linked to health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Therefore, sleep is critical to a healthier lifestyle.
What are the signs that you are sleep deprived?
So how can you tell if you are sleep deprived? Here are three common signs of sleep deprivation.
1) Poor memory
Sleep deprivation affects our brain’s ability to learn and recall information. During REM sleep, your brain is active, processing information and storing memories from the previous day.
Less sleep disrupts this process because your body spends less time in this REM cycle. The following day you may have trouble recalling what was said in a business meeting or what assignments you have.
Sleep deprivation also makes it harder for your brain to absorb new information, as the brain is working hard to focus and take in information. And not only is your ability to remember affected, but your motor skills suffer too. Your brain’s ability to store memory also includes motor skills and physical reflexes.
This is another reason why a high percentage of car accidents occur due to sleep deprivation. Sleep-deprived drivers have a slower reaction time. Poor motor skills can also be problematic if you play sports with less sleep—you may struggle to execute a specific move or maneuver, preventing you from performing at your best.
2) Weight gain
Chronic insomnia can also lead to unwanted weight gain. Less sleep triggers changes in hormone levels that regulate your hunger. Leptin lets the body know when it’s full, while ghrelin signals hunger. Little sleep produces less leptin and more ghrelin – you’ll feel hungrier, but your body will be slower to react when you’re full. You end up eating more than you need to.
Sleep deprivation increases stress. Less sleep triggers an increase in cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone responsible for holding onto energy (sugars and fat) to be used later. More stress means your body retains more fat.
Your insulin levels are also affected. With a higher production of cortisol, your body is less sensitive to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that changes food into energy. Your body has a harder time processing fats from the bloodstream when it becomes less sensitive to insulin. These fats end up stored in the body, leading to weight gain.
Less sleep also affects your diet. As previously mentioned, sleep may influence your decisions. Studies show that less sleep leads to consuming more junk food. You’re more likely to have intense cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods, like french fries and ice cream. You’re also more likely to give in to those cravings.
To make matters worse, eating these foods increases the chance that you’ll indulge in the same foods again on the same day.
3) Poor decision making
Studies show that sleep loss is tied to making risky decisions. You become more impulsive and are less likely to consider loss, only focusing on the reward. How does this happen?
In 2001, the SLEEP journal published a study on how sleep deprivation elevates the expectation of gains. Sleep-deprived participants were more likely to make risk-taking decisions if the payoff was high. The anticipation of reward stems from an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. While the number of high-risk decisions didn’t increase, the expectation for a higher reward did.
This type of phenomenon is common in gambling. It can also be a problem in everyday life. For example, if you’re an entrepreneur or own a company, you may make risky decisions hoping for a higher reward. Further, less sleep also means your brain is less aware of loss—you could make a high-risk decision, only focused on the reward and not fully considering the consequences if you lose.
How much sleep do you need every night?
How much sleep do you need to avoid being sleep deprived? The amount of sleep you need every night varies on your age:
- Newborns (0 to 3 months): Between 14 and 17 hours of sleep
- Infants (4 to 11 months): Between 12 and 15 hours of sleep
- Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours of sleep
- Pre-schoollers (3 to 5 years): 10 to 13 hours of sleep
- Children (6 to 13 years): 9 to 11 hours of sleep
- Teenagers (14 to 17 years): 8 to 10 hours of sleep
- Adults (18 to 64 years): 7 to 9 hours of sleep
- Older adults (65+ years): 7 to 8 hours of sleep
Does napping make up for lost sleep?
Napping for brief periods may boost your energy levels and improve your focus. Just make sure you’re smart about how you nap.
Don’t sleep longer than 30 minutes – you want to avoid slipping into the REM cycle, which can cause sleep inertia. Also, avoid napping after 3 p.m. This could make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.
How can you achieve better sleep?
Practicing good sleep hygiene is the key to avoiding the effects of poor sleep. There a number of small things you can do in your routine that can better your sleep hygiene.
1) Establish a sleep schedule
Setting a bedtime may seem childish, but in reality, it works. A set sleep and wake time makes it easier to fall asleep at night and wake in the morning. Your body will adjust to the rhythm, so when it’s time for bed, you may automatically start to feel sleepy.
It’s just as important to maintain this schedule on the weekends too. Bodies respond positively to these consistent rhythms. It may be tempting to sleep in for a few hours, but this can throw off your body. Plus, if you’re getting the right amount of sleep, you likely do not need that extra time.
2) Avoid heavy meals
There may be some truth to “eat dinner like a pauper” philosophy. Avoiding heavy meals and snacking may improve your sleep. Heavy meals take longer to digest.
When it’s time for bed, your body may be focused on digesting, making it harder to fall asleep. The best time to eat dinner is between 6pm and 6:30pm, allowing your body time to digest your meal.
3) Keep your bedroom dark
Your body’s sleep-wake cycle is influenced by melatonin. Your body is continually producing melatonin. However, production is lowest during the day and strongest at night. That’s because the more light you’re exposed to, the less melatonin there is in your body.
Keeping your bedroom dark induces sleep. Any light exposure could reduce melatonin levels and make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Alternatively, if you can’t make your bedroom dark, a sleep mask can be effective.
4) Avoid using your phone or laptop at night
We’ve all been there: you climb into bed and start scrolling through your phone, checking on messages, and browsing social media sites. This may come across as a relaxing activity to help you sleep, but it’s the exact opposite.
When you’re using any electronic device (TV, tablet, computer, or smartphone), you’re exposing yourself to blue light.
Blue light tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, halting the melatonin production and making it harder to fall asleep. Try to avoid any electronic devices for an hour or two before bed. If you need to scroll through your phone, use your night settings or the apps that filter out blue light.
Photo by Megan te Boekhorst