Sleep deprivation

A new born baby is a common cause of sleep deprivation

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An introduction to sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation arises when one can’t sleep well, leading to a person not being able to function at his or her best. There are basically two ways you can be deprived of sleep:

  • Lack of sleep. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep but research suggests that the correct amount for an average adult lies somewhere between seven and a half and nine hours. While this may seem a lot, you could find yourself feeling a lot more alert and energetic if you clock enough hours of sleep
  • Not getting enough good quality of sleep. Even if you spend enough hours in bed, the sleep you are getting may not be restful enough. This means you will wake up feeling as if you have only had three hours sleep even if you have had far more.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation

The most obvious symptom is feeling sleepy and tired when you are meant to be awake. You may not realise how groggy and tired you have become if lack of sleep has become acceptable in your eyes.

Other symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

  • constantly yawning as you try to supply your brain with enough oxygen to stay awake
  • becoming anxious, moody or irritable
  • a tendency to doze off when you are in a warm room, relaxed or bored
  • finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning
  • finding it difficult to remember things or to concentrate
  • starting to have problems with your vision, particularly the ability to focus
  • finding it more difficult to make decisions, or you take a riskier option than you would normally
  • having difficulty performing simple tasks such speaking or walking in a straight line. This is because sleep deprivation can have a similar effect in your body as alcohol consumption.

Causes of sleep deprivation

If you have ever spent a night waiting for your delayed plane to depart, or lain awake in an unfamiliar bed and environment, you will probably have experienced a degree of sleep deprivation. Under these circumstances, your body will quickly make up for the sleep you have lost.

However, there are more serious causes which can lead to long-term sleep deprivation:

  • Sleep problems – these are not medical conditions, but arise because something in your life or environment is affecting your sleep. Examples are a new baby, worry about work or a personal problem. Minor medical conditions such as a blocked nose or night sweats in menopausal woman can also cause you to have difficulty sleeping
  • Sleep disorders – these are medical conditions which need to be managed by a doctor. Examples include insomnia and sleep apnoea.

When should I see a doctor?

Most people who sleep badly will be addressing the underlying problem. Making simple changes to your lifestyle by addressing sleep hygiene can be extremely beneficial if your sleep problem is mild or moderate, saving you from having to seek medical attention.

However, it is important to see a doctor if:

  • The cause of your sleep problem, sleep disorder or sleep deprivation is unexplained
  • You are worried about the effects of your sleep deprivation
  • You are concerned that there may be an underlying medical problem affecting your sleep.

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