We have all been there. Sleeplessness, pulling all-nighters as students or picking up a double shift at work. But are you really aware of the adverse effects of not getting enough restorative sleep? Restorative is key here – uninterrupted peaceful sleep, waking up in the morning feeling rested and rejuvenated. That is something I myself haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing on a regular basis.
I wanted to take the opportunity to talk to you about the negative side effects of sleep deprivation and how to get back on track – whether you have occasional nights of sleeplessness or if it is a chronic condition.
Let’s say you did not get a “full night’s rest” last night. Meaning, you had an interrupted, tossing and turning, racing thoughts kind of night. Let’s also say that the time you went to bed to the time you woke up this morning was six hours or less. You might have experienced some of these mild but irritating symptoms today –
Lowered cognitive functioning
Tiredness throughout the day
Change in appetite
“Auto-pilot” with routine activities
If you said yes to experiencing these symptoms, you are mildly sleep deprived. Most, if not all of us have experienced nights and days like this. As long as we are able to regulate our schedules again and adjust to compensate for lost sleep from the night before, our brains and bodies are pretty good at restoring and catching up.
What we are more concerned about here is the moderate to severe levels of sleep deprivation. It takes as little as 3 consecutive nights to start feeling moderate levels of sleep deprivation consequences and 7 nights to lead to more severe symptoms. Some of you may have had sleeping issues for months or years!
In moderate to severe cases of sleep deprivation, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
Low frustration tolerance
Impaired cognitive functioning severe enough to impact daily functioning at home or with work
Instability of emotions
Lowered immune system
Symptoms that resemble depression, anxiety and even psychosis
Again, some of you may be nodding your heads “yes, that’s me!” to aspects of this list. But what you might not know about are the underlying consequences. The ones not so easily identified by you or others until it becomes a real problem.
Not getting enough restorative sleep is actually very complex and can wreak havoc on our brains and bodies leading to physical, emotional and psychological concerns. Biochemically speaking, our brains and bodies respond to the light/dark cycles of the day, so it is no surprise that our hormones are in sync with the day and night patterns here on Earth.
Some “hidden” or less obvious consequences of chronic sleep deprivation also include:
Damage to our cells and tissues
Increase in free radicals/toxicity
Depressed immune system
Insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes
Weight gain (body fat increase, especially around mid-section)
Slow physical healing and circulation
Heart disease and high blood pressure
Infertility – both in women and men
-Males may experience lowered sperm count and lowered libido
-In females, sleep helps reestablish reproductive hormones
The Circadian Rhythm
We have what’s called a Circadian Rhythm that coincides with the day/night cycles of our revolving Earth, lasting approximately twenty-four hours. Simply stated, when our eyes perceive darkness around us our hormones send melatonin on its way, making us naturally feel drowsy and tired. Conversely, when our eyes take in light, the hormone cortisol is released, making us feel like we have more energy.
When we have regulated sleep patterns that coincide with the night/day cycles our biochemical processes are regulated. Ahhh, restful sleep. But the catch is that today, we have so much stress, unhealthy food, addictions to sugar, alcohol, nicotine, and alcohol, in addition to the incessant use of technology that it actually has the ability to alter our sleep cycles.
Let Me Break These Concepts Down:
We lead stressful lives with demanding jobs, busy home-lives, extracurricular activities, meetings, etc. Over-dedication and burn-out can release an excess of cortisol which can lead to a lot of other issues including:
-Lack of restful sleep
-High blood sugar levels induced by stress
Unhealthy foods play a crucial role in the quality of sleep we get. Sugary and starchy or processed foods alter our hormone regulation and insulin levels, often leading to sleep problems as well as physical problems.Studies have shown that the regular use of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine also disrupt regulatory hormones essential for stabilizing healthy sleep habits.This one will be a tough habit to crack. When lying in bed watching a movie or TV, playing with your cell phone or tablet, your eyes perceive light. Light sends signals to the brain that it’s not yet time to start releasing melatonin, thus disrupting our natural sleep cycles.
In fact, chronic sleep deprivation can be a precursor for insomnia. So, what do we do? If you suffer either occasionally or chronically from sleep deficiencies, I have included some ways in which you can reestablish your wake/sleep cycles.
Benefits of Quality Sleep
Good sleep is priceless. Waking up feeling restored, rested and ready for the day. Restorative sleep helps our brains and bodies prepare for the next day: all the routine and predictable events as well as the not so predictable things that demand our best cognitive functioning and quick decision-making skills.
Try These To Get A Better Night’s Rest:
If you said yes to experiencing these symptoms, you are mildly sleep deprived. Most, if not
all of us have experienced nights and days like this. As long as we are able to regulate our schedules again and adjust to compensate for lost sleep from the night before, our brains and bodies are pretty good at restoring and catching up
If you have suffered from sleep deprivation for an extended amount of time and have tried these above-stated remedies or medication, you might have a Sleep-Wake Disorder. There is a whole realm of sleep disorders that would be worth seeking advice from a medical doctor to help determine. These could include but are not limited to:
Shift work sleep disorder
Sleep Apnea or Sleep-Related Hypoventilation
Or lack of sleep resulting from another medical, psychological, or substance-induced condition
It’s time you reclaim your sleep. Make it restorative, make it sound.
Katie Porter, M.A., LPC