Sleep is essential to a healthy lifestyle, but many people need more of it. The recommended amount of sleep for adults is seven-nine hours per night, but getting even six hours can be challenging for some. However, sleeping less than 6 hours per night can significantly impact the body and mind.
One of the most significant effects of sleep deprivation is the increased risk of chronic health conditions. Studies have shown that people under six hours of sleep per night are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Sleep deprivation can also weaken the immune system, making catching illnesses like colds and the flu easier.
Sleep is also crucial for mental health. Lack of sleep can lead to mood changes, such as irritability and depression, and exacerbate mental health conditions. In addition, sleep deprivation can affect cognitive function, such as memory, concentration, and decision-making abilities. It can also lead to a decrease in overall performance, affecting work productivity and academic performance.
Sleep deprivation also puts individuals at risk for injury. It is a leading cause of accidents, particularly in high-risk environments such as driving or operating heavy machinery. Fatigue can impair reaction time and decision-making abilities, making it more likely for accidents to occur. In addition, sleep deprivation can affect coordination, balance, and overall physical performance, increasing the risk of falls and other accidents.
One of the most concerning aspects of sleep deprivation is that it can become a vicious cycle. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to insomnia, making falling and staying asleep even harder. This can create a feedback loop where individuals cannot get the rest they need, leading to health and cognitive issues.
There are several ways to address sleep deprivation and improve sleep quality. One of the most effective is establishing a consistent sleep schedule, aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This can be achieved by creating a relaxing bedtime routine, avoiding stimulating activities before bed, and creating a comfortable sleep environment.
As a sleep expert and board-certified neurologist, he emphasizes the importance of good sleep hygiene in preventing sleep deprivation. “It’s essential to create a sleep-conducive environment,” she says. “This means keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet and avoiding screens for at least an hour before bed.”
Sleep expert also recommends avoiding caffeine and alcohol, especially in the evening, as they can disrupt sleep patterns. “Caffeine can stay in the system for up to six hours, so it’s important to avoid it in the afternoon and evening,” she says. “Similarly, alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but it can disrupt the later stages of sleep, leading to poorer sleep quality overall.”
In addition to lifestyle changes, several medical treatments are available for sleep deprivation. These include prescription sleep aids, benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, and cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). Sleep expert notes that while medication can be effective in the short term, it should not be relied upon as a long-term solution. “Medications can help in the short term, but they don’t address the underlying issues causing sleep deprivation,” she says. “CBT-I can be a more effective long-term solution, as it teaches individuals how to change their behaviours and thoughts around sleep.”
Sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on both physical and mental health, as well as cognitive function and overall performance. Establishing good sleep hygiene and seeking medical treatment when necessary can help individuals get the rest they need to lead a healthy, productive life.