When an individual is sleep deprived, the best way to reduce the symptoms and manage the condition is to increase the quantity or quality of sleep to meet their needs. However, the techniques used to increase sleep will vary according to the cause of sleep deprivation and the specific situation.
Addressing the Cause
Initially, identifying the possible causative factors of sleep deprivation is essential, which should then be addressed before implementing other management techniques.
Simple changes to the sleeping environment and habits can be sufficient to reduce deprivation of sleep in many cases. This may include reducing light or sound in the bedroom, or avoiding caffeinated drinks and alcohol before bedtime. The blue light from electronic screens can also cause difficulty sleeping and should not be used directly before sleeping.
If there are specific work or study commitments that are inhibiting the normal and healthy sleep patterns, these may need to be addressed. Shift workers and people who frequently fly are more likely to have disrupted sleep patterns and be deprived of sleep. Additionally, adolescents that go to sleep late due to a delayed circadian rhythm may benefit from later school hours to allow for more morning sleep.
There are also some medical conditions, such as insomnia and sleep apnea that can cause sleep deprivation. These should be recognized and managed adequately to help reduce sleep deprivation.
Managing Daytime Sleepiness
A common symptom of sleep deprivation is sleepiness during the day. There are several methods that can help to reduce sleepiness and improve overall performance.
Brief naps during the day for less than 30 minutes can help to relieve symptoms and improve alertness. It is recommended to keep the nap less than 30 minutes as beyond this time deep sleep stages commence and it is more difficult to wake up, leading to worsening of symptoms, known as sleep inertia.
In some instances, the use of stimulants during the day can help to increase alertness, enabling sleep to occur more easily at nighttime.
A common example of a stimulant is caffeine, which is regularly used by the majority of adults. It can help to improve alertness and overall performance of an individual, even when they are sleep deprived. There are also pharmaceutical compounds with stimulant action that are used to reduce daytime sleepiness in individuals with some sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy.
However, it is important that stimulants are used in moderation and suitable doses for the individual, as they can worsen sleep deprivation when taken close to bedtime. When taken over the long-term, a tolerance can also be built up so that the stimulatory effects are less evident.
Promoting Healthy Sleep Habits
When an individual is suffering from sleep deprivation, the best management technique is to increase the quantity or quality of sleep to enable the individual to get back into healthier habits of sleep. This may include:
- Purposefully going to bed earlier
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and smoking in the hours preceding sleep
- Making changes to the sleep environment to aid sleep (e.g. light-proofing or sound-proofing)
- Removing distractions from bedroom (e.g. TV, phone or computer)
- Using relaxation techniques to aid sleep
These simple changes can often make a substantial difference to improving the sleep quality and helping to relieve symptoms or prevent sleep deprivation.
If an individual is aware that they are likely to get less sleep than required during a certain period, such as for shift workers, it is possible to use some methods prior to deprivation to reduce the effects.
In particular, taking prophylactic naps before the period of sleep loss may assist in reducing the symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as decreased performance and alertness.