By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
Sleep deprivation is a term that refers to an inadequate quantity of sleep, characterized by signs of sleepiness during the day, reduced alertness and decreased performance at work or study. It often occurs as a result of a sleeping disorder that restricts the quantity, quality or timing of sleep.
It can be an acute or chronic condition, depending on the cause of deprivation. Most sleep disorders cause ongoing difficulty with sleep, leading to chronic sleep deprivation. Acute deprivation, on the other hand, is more likely to be associated with short-term circumstances that lead to sleep difficulties, such as a temporary restriction of sleep time of grievous events taking place.
Normal Sleep Requirement
The sleep requirements for each individual are different, according to specific factors such as age, general health, physical activity and mental exertion.
In general, children and adolescents need approximately 9-10 hours of sleep per day to enable healthy brain development. Most adults need slightly less than 8 hours of sleep each day for optimal function, although this requirement appears to continually decrease with age.
When an individual is deprived of sleep, there are several effects that may occur, as adequate sleep is essential for the human body to function healthily. They usually feel tired during the day, are more likely to perform poorly, and they may notice significant weight changes.
Sleep is important for the maintenance and development of the brain and cognitive function. For this reason, when people are sleep deprived, they are more likely to have difficulty making decisions and problem solving. As sleep is also important for the processing and storage of memories, deprivation of sleep is associated with difficulty with learning and cognitive function.
For this reason, children with sleep deprivation are less likely to perform well at school or in studies. Additionally, sleep deprivation can have an effect on the emotional control of an individual.
There are various possible causes of sleep deprivation, the most common of which include:
- Personal choice: people unaware of sleep requirements often choose to stay up at night to socialize or enjoy hobbies.
- Environment: the bedroom can also affect sleep, such as when there are extreme temperatures or excessive light or sound. New parents are also prone to sleep deprivation due to infants crying or needing feeding.
- Habits: some individuals are not aware of good sleep hygiene and may consume caffeine or alcohol, smoke cigarettes or use electronic devices shortly before bed.
- Shift work: irregular work hours can disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle leading to difficulty sleep in the time available.
- Illness: sickness or infection of the respiratory tract can temporarily restrict breathing during sleep.
- Sleep disorder: many sleep disorders can disrupt the quantity, quality or timing of sleep.
- Medications: some drugs can cause insomnia and disrupt the sleep cycle.
The best way to manage sleep deprivation is to sleep and allow the body to recover naturally by allowing time and a suitable environment to get adequate sleep. This may include simple lifestyle alterations, such as:
- Going to bed earlier
- Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and smoking before bedtime
- Light-proofing or sound-proofing the sleep environment
- Removing distractions such as TV, computer or phone
- Using relaxation techniques to aid sleep
In some cases, there is an underlying medical issue that causes sleep deprivation, which should be addressed first and symptoms are likely to resolve following this. Some people may also benefit from pharmaceutical aids to sleep at night or increase alertness during the day.
Last Updated: Mar 6, 2016