What Causes Sleep Deprivation?
There are several reasons why an individual may suffer from sleep deprivation. Some of the causes have to do with an individual’s behavior or environment, and others are health-related.
Let’s start by looking at examples of environmental or behavioral causes of insufficient sleep:
Electronic devices: In modern times, almost everyone has an electronic device of some sort. If these are used in the bedroom or just before going to sleep, they can disrupt the sleep scheduled.
Work: Many people take work home and work late to try and meet deadlines.Changes in sleeping times resulting from shift work can also disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm (an internal clock that regulates an individual’s sleep-wake circle).
Unsuitable environment: A room that is noisy, too cold or hot, or dirty will make it challenging to get sufficient sleep.
Substance abuse: According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Substance use causes sleep problems; but insomnia and insufficient sleep may also be a factor raising the risk of drug use and addiction.”
Here are some examples of health-related causes for sleep deprivation:
Sleep apnea: A condition that causes difficulty breathing during sleep, disrupting the amount of oxygen transmitted into the body for critical functions.
Chronic fatigue syndrome: A condition where an individual continuously feels tired and sore in different parts of the body.
Depression: The Sleep Foundation concludes that “most people who have experienced depression know that it is often accompanied by sleeping problems.”
Chronic pain: A research article published by the US National Library of Medicine notes that “ample evidence suggests that sleep and pain are related.” The same study reports that “sleep complaints are present in 67–88% of chronic pain disorders and at least 50% of individuals with insomnia—the most commonly diagnosed disorder of sleep impairment—suffer from chronic pain.”
What Are the Effects of Sleep Deprivation?
Concerns about sleep deprivation are not just based on the feeling that sufficient sleep is nice to have. The concerns are based on the fact that sleep deprivation can have undesirable effects on an individual's health. Such effects include a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, among others.
According to an article published by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, insufficient sleep has been linked by studies to weight gain. The same article reports that research shows that people who “habitually sleep less than six hours per night are much more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI) and that people who sleep eight hours have the lowest BMI.”
The same Harvard Medical School article cited in the above paragraph reports that researchers have found that people who do not get adequate sleep have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Several effects of insufficient sleep are mentioned by other studies. These include reduced life expectancy, poor immune function, mood disorders, heart disease, and alcohol abuse.
How Can Sleep Deprivation Be Treated?
The good news is that sleep deprivation can generally be treated using several methods, including environmental and behavioral changes, lifestyle changes, counseling, alternative therapies, and various medication types.
Environmental and behavioral changes
Some of the environmental conditions that impact sleep include the comfort of your bed, having electronic devices in the bedroom, an uncomfortably hot or cold sleeping environment, and light conditions. Therefore, it is clear that the first place you may want to look at if you suspect that you are getting insufficient sleep should be your sleeping conditions.
Some behaviors like drinking beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol before going to bed can affect sleep. This is because caffeine is a stimulant that could make your heart beat faster. Also, drinking anything before going to sleep could force you to wake up several times during the night so you could get up and urinate.
You could avoid sleep deprivation by not taking drinks that contain caffeine a few hours before hitting the sack. Also, going to bed with a stomach that’s too full could leave you uncomfortable, which could make it difficult to sleep.
Taking a warm relaxing bath before going to bed is also recommended. You may also consider listening to music that relaxes you or talking to someone you trust before lying down for a good night's sleep.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
We have already noted that there is a link between sleep deprivation and mental health. Chronic sleep problems can be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy. According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of treatment helps individuals struggling with sleep problems to replace thoughts and behaviors responsible for sleep challenges with “habits that promote sound sleep.”
One of the major advances in therapy for various conditions in the last few years is the development of alternative therapies. Alternative therapy is a way of dealing with medical conditions by focusing on a holistic approach. This implies that the therapy does not just focus on the condition treated but instead on the individual’s complete well-being.
With regards to sleep deprivation, one widely known example of alternative therapy is yoga. As an exercise that involves relaxation, deliberate breathing, and mindfulness, yoga is perceived to be a type of therapy that focuses on the entire being instead of targeting the sleeping disorder specifically.
Technologies like the CPAP machine have become standard therapies for conditions like sleep apnea. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that “it is now estimated that 26 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 70 years have sleep apnea.”
The CPAP machinepressurizes air delivered into the airway while you are sleeping. This ensures that the airways remain open and snoring is eliminated. However, for such machines to work properly, they need to be used correctly and kept clean.