Everyone knows that quality sleep is important to stay healthy and for proper bodily functions. However, we all hit a rough patch from time to time when sleep is hindered thanks to life changes, stress or other factors. Sleep deprivation is a condition when you don’t get enough sleep, and it can occur during brief periods or days at a time, while more serious scenarios can last longer. A healthy sleep schedule for adults should be around seven hours or more a night. “This sleep should also be undisturbed and comfortable, allowing your body to fully rest and recover during Rapid Eye Movement sleep,” said Happy Beds sleep expert Katherine Hall. “This is when the brain becomes more active and the body is at its most relaxed, helping that rest and recovery occur.”
Besides the fact that poor sleep habits can affect your ability to function and focus on a daily basis, there are also many health risks tied to it. Research has shown that your cardiovascular health, blood pressure and even your immune system can be affected by lack of sleep. Not to mention, lack of sleep also ages you and can affect your weight and mood. If you’re experiencing sleep deprivation or are already feeling the side effects, it’s helpful to know the stages first. Below are the warning signs that you may be dealing with sleep deprivation.
The first stage may not seem detrimental since one night of little or no sleep isn’t going to put your health at risk. Symptoms that are part of the first stage of sleep deprivation or first 24 hours of sleep deprivation can include:
- Decreased alertness
- Puffy eyes or dark under eye circles
If you’re going on over 24 hours of little to no sleep, you’re most likely going to feel the initial symptoms of sleep deprivation more amplified. This time your cognitive performance is going to be more impaired and your body will experience a weakened immune system and inflammation. “Some people experience brief periods of sleep known as microsleeps which only last 30 seconds and occur without you realizing it,” Hall said.
Sleep deprivation after 36 hours of no sleep may have you starting to experience hallucinations and the urge to microsleep more frequently. Your immune system has weakened, memory may start to falter at this stage, your reaction time will be worse and you’ll be extremely fatigued.
At this point, you’ve been going four days without proper sleep and are at peak sleep deprivation. You may continue to have hallucinations, imagine hearing or seeing things, not to mention you’ll be extremely tired and increasingly irritable and anxious.
Stages 5 & 6
These stages are the most dangerous because after five days of sleep deprivation, if you’ve been hallucinating, you may also experience delusions and disordered thinking. In addition, all of the physical symptoms you’ve been experiencing may be worse. At this stage the urge to sleep will feel unbearable and your perception of reality will be severely impaired and distorted. You’ll also be unable to think properly or understand things clearly and you can end up in a state of psychosis.
Solutions for sleep deprivation
The good news is there are ways to combat sleep deprivation and prevent it before it gets worse. Hall recommends focusing on these key things:
By creating a routine, you set yourself up for success. “Try to make sure you’re going to bed and getting up at the same time each morning and night,” Hall said. This includes weekends, which can often negatively impact your routine because oftentimes you’re going to bed later than normal. Therefore, it’s important to have a consistent bedtime throughout the week.
Your pre-bedtime routine can also help signal to your brain that you’re winding down for the day. You can do this by taking a bath, focusing on your skincare regimen, even meditating. By creating a relaxing bedtime ritual, it makes it easier for your brain to switch off and fall asleep when the time comes.
Creating the right environment in your bedroom can also impact your sleeping experience. “Your room should be dark, quiet and free from distractions because light and noise can cause you to wake up throughout the night,” Hall said. She advises investing in curtains, black-out blinds and earplugs if you’re a light sleeper. You should also nix the electronic devices like TVs, computers and cell phones before bed as they can affect sleep quality. “Blue lights from electronics can cause your brain to become more alert, meaning you struggle to fall asleep,” Hall said. Instead, try reading a book since it signals to your brain to switch off and your body to unwind, meaning you’ll fall naturally asleep.
Other ways you can improve your sleeping habits include being active throughout the day. This also helps make sure that you’re tired at the right time of night, so you’ll fall asleep easier and have higher quality sleep. You should also avoid caffeine late in the day and avoid big meals and alcohol close to your bedtime. These can disrupt your ability to fall asleep and the quality.
When it’s time to see a doctor
If none of these solutions have helped with sleep deprivation, then it’s important to address it with your doctor, who can offer better guidance. “You should see a doctor if it gets to the point where you are having significantly less than the recommended seven to nine hours that an adult should sleep at night and for a prolonged period of time,” Hall said.
Sleep issues this severe can even indicate signs of insomnia. Hall said there are two different types of insomnia — short-term and long-term. “Short-term insomnia is when you have been suffering for three months or less, and long-term is anything longer than this,” she said. “Both types and any sleep issues should be taken very seriously as the symptoms mentioned previously are not to be ignored.” If sleep deprivation symptoms have affected your quality of life then you should seek professional help since you should receive a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.