Updated: Sep 21, 2018
People are often quick to say they’re suffering from sleep deprivation and to use it as an excuse for being groggy, tired or in a bad mood. We investigate what the term ‘sleep deprivation’ really means, so you can determine whether you’re affected by it.
Sleep deprivation is simply not getting enough sleep for you, and can be either ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’. Acute sleep deprivation is either a one-off or a few sporadic incidences of not getting enough sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation is a series of prolonged incidences of not enough sleep – be it none at all or a series of interruptions in sleep causing it to be of poor quality.
The severity of sleep deprivation – be it not getting any sleep or just not experiencing a good enough quality of sleep – is often underestimated. Of course, those who struggle with it feel tired, drowsy and groggy often, and this is the most complaint as a result of it. However, this is just one effect of a lack of quality sleep, and in fact it can lead to a number of more severe physical and psychological challenges than just feeling a bit peaky.
Modern systems and stresses mean that more of us than ever experience sleep deprivation… and with more than ever of us being aware of it, we stress over the lack of sleep too! It is, therefore, important to understand what sleep deprivation is and how it can be overcome.
There are lots of reasons why you may experience a lack of sleep – including spending your time on other things, your sleep being interrupted (new parents will sympathise!), staying awake due to anxieties, or experiencing disorders that lessen the quality of your sleep, such as nightmares, physical twitches or sleep paralysis. Indeed, all of the latter disturbances listed are more common the more you suffer from sleep deprivation, so it can be a difficult cycle to get out of it.
The symptoms of sleep deprivation are not just excessive tiredness. You may notice increased darkness under the eyes, ongoing impaired physical performance, heavier sleeping (through alarm clocks, for example) and even falling asleep unintentionally. Psychologically, hunger levels may increase, cognitive performance can suffer and mood may dip. These effects can range from mild and temporary to long-term serious health issues.
The best treatment for those suffering from sleep deprivation is, of course, to get more sleep – but this is often easier said than done! It may be that the individual needs to address underlying situations or circumstances that cause undue stress, but there are plenty of exercises and actions that can be taken to help increase the quality of the sleep that is reached and to get to a decent state of sleep faster.