Even if you think you’re getting enough sleep, you may be suffering from sleep deprivation. The symptoms of sleep deprivation are not necessarily as clear-cut as you might think; in other words, it’s not just feeling sleepy all the time that is your cue that you’re short on sleep. So how do you know? Here are some signs of sleep deprivation:
Everyone has trouble sleeping now and then. We all experience the occasional sleepless night and groggy morning. We may even go through a period when we experience these things, such as during life transitions and stresses. But when sleep deprivation may be a problem is when it is a regular occurrence and is unrelated to circumstances.
2. Sleep Debt
Experts point out “sleep debt” as a way in which sleep deprivation can enter your life without you necessarily realizing it. Sleep debt is accumulated gradually and is said to result from an hour or more of missed sleep every night for several nights. Sleep debt can get so bad that several nights of regular sleep are required to improve normal functioning.
Lack of sleep can make people very irritable, sources say. Are you snappish and impatient? Do you find yourself having little tolerance for your own mistakes and those of others? It may be lack of sleep that’s the culprit.
4. Increased Appetite and/or Weight Gain
Did you know that a lack of sleep may increase your appetite and lead to weight gain? Perhaps the body’s need for energy when it’s sleep-deprived is what leads to a craving for sweets, carbohydrates, or just food in general. Increased appetite may also be the result of hormones that kick in when the body is deprived of sleep.
Even without a marked increase in appetite, research has shown the sleep deprivation can result in weight gain. This also may be due to hormonal imbalances caused by too little sleep.
If you find yourself making silly mistakes on a regular basis – dropping things, forgetting dates on the calendar, messing up your schedule, and so forth – it may be your sleepy brain. Studies show that those who don’t get enough sleep have a hard time performing normal tasks that are no problem when they are getting enough sleep.
As with other mental disorders, sleep deprivation may not be a cause of depression, but rather a symptom. However, some sources do point out that depression can result from a lack of sleep. If you are feeling depressed and are having a hard time determining why you might take a look at your sleep habits.
Could Your Diet Be Keeping You Awake?
The various connections between what you eat and how you sleep are gaining attention. Research is showing that what you eat or don’t eat can, in fact, affect your sleep. Here are some ideas as to how food affects your sleep, and what foods should be eaten or avoided to get a good night’s sleep.
1. Sleep and Weight Gain
Multiple studies have shown that getting adequate, quality sleep may contribute to weight loss and that not getting enough sleep may contribute to weight gain.
Interestingly, eating less did not help offset the weight gain associated with lack of sleep, according to a large-scale, long-term study on sleep and weight gain. This may be because lack of sleep may affect your metabolism, and when you don’t get enough sleep, you produce the stress hormone cortisol, which is said to make you feel hungry.
Eating chocolate, sugar, refined grains, or drinking caffeine during the day and into the evening can have a stimulative effect that goes well into the night. For some people, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives can disturb sleep. In addition, experts recommend that you also avoid the following foods, particularly in the evenings and/or right before bed:
- Alcohol – Ironically, alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns and make for poor sleep quality. Its diuretic effect (particularly beer) can also disrupt sleep.
- Excessively salty foods – As the kidneys work to rid your body of the excess salt, you will probably find yourself getting up to go to the bathroom during the night.
- Tea, coffee, or cola – The caffeine these drinks contain is not only a stimulant to your nervous system; it’s been said to stimulate the kidneys, too.
- Spicy and/or greasy, fried foods – These may cause heartburn.
Sleep Deprivation Effects
Most of us know that a good night’s sleep is healthy; but do we really take that advice seriously? Many times, we brush aside a full night’s sleep due to our busy schedules, a need for “down time” that keeps us up, or simply life’s circumstances. But a lack of sleep can result in more than just feeling tired (which is bad enough). Medical experts warn that chronic sleep deprivation can have serious effects on your health.
Here are some health problems that may result from lack of sleep.
While not all cancer risks are affected by lack of sleep, studies have indicated that breast and colon cancer risk is greatest for those who work night shifts. Apparently, the exposure to light in the night-time hours reduces the body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin is a brain chemical that helps promote healthy sleep, but it may also reduce tumors and protect against cancer as well. The less you sleep, the less melatonin your body manufactures.
2. Heart Attacks
Statistically, heart attacks occur more often in the early morning hours. Experts believe this may have something to do with the particular way that sleep and waking affect the cardiovascular system. Studies have shown that the health problems that often lead to heart disease – obesity, high blood pressure, etc. – are exacerbated by lack of sleep.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you tend to be moody and irritable, which is not good for any relationship. Also, sleep problems may lead to partners sleeping separately, or resentment on the part of one or both of the partners for the problem. This kind of tension may affect any children in the family as well.
4. Impaired Cognition
An inability to think straight or think constructively is a problem associated with sleep deprivation. You may have trouble remembering things, too, if you are not getting enough sleep.
From automobile accidents to accidents on the job, sleep deprivation has been implicated in all sorts of accidental injury situations. The brain just does not react as quickly or efficiently when you are starved of sleep, and clumsiness and mistakes are also symptoms associated with lack of sleep (and accidents).
Sleep Deprivation Treatment
What Should You Eat?
- Magnesium-containing foods, such as almonds, seeds, black beans, salmon, dark leafy greens and most whole grains are helpful (although if beans give you uncomfortable gas, they should probably be avoided). Magnesium is crucial to muscle and nerve function, particularly muscle relaxation.
- Whole grains and other complex carbohydrates may also promote sleep, as they are said to stimulate serotonin in the brain.
- Plain, low-fat yogurt with raw honey makes a good bedtime snack. Raw honey is actually purported to promote sleep and even weight loss, while yogurt contains calcium, which is also important to muscle relaxation. Calcium also helps with melatonin production in the body.
- Low-fat cheese can also help promote sleep. Whole grain pasta with a little Parmesan, for example, may be a good night-time meal.
Can Exercise Improve Sleep?
Yes, exercise can improve the quality of your sleep. In fact, many experts point to this basic lifestyle adjustment as being key to sleep improvement. However, sources point out that how and when you exercise makes a difference in how positively and how much your exercise will affect your sleep.
Generally speaking, an exercise in the mid to late afternoon is ideal. For one thing, it gets you past the sleepy time in the afternoon when taking a nap (if possible) can result in your not feeling sleepy at bedtime. Late afternoon exercise gets your body heat up and your circulation going, and as your body temperature cools, it seems to get the body ready for sleep.
If you eat dinner early, exercising after dinner may work for you – but giving your body at least four hours of cool down time is said to be best.
A vigorous workout in the evening shortly before bed means you are trying to sleep with a raised body temperature, and studies have shown that a cooling body temperature is most conducive to sleep.
If morning is the only time you have to exercise, of course, that is better than no exercise at all. Because exercise is good for the body overall, all body systems from circulation to muscle tone are improved, and keeping your body systems in top shape ultimately promotes a good night’s sleep.
Exercise also relieves tension. A 2008 study pointed out the relaxing benefits of exercise and the subsequent benefits of better sleep.
What Kind of Exercise Is Best?
For the most effective sleep promotion, most experts agree that cardiovascular exercise is best. A vigorous cardio workout that lasts at least 20 minutes is sufficient to raise body temperature, get your heart pumping, and enhance circulation. Examples of cardiovascular exercises you can do at home or nearby include:
* Walking (vigorous, fast walking)
* Jumping rope
* Bike riding
The key is to make the exercise continual and vigorous. This is why exercises like Yoga and lifting weights, while valuable and valid types of exercise, are not necessarily the best choices for sleep-promoting cardiovascular exercise.
Yoga and other meditative, stretching exercises may be helpful before bed, however, to relieve tension without raising the body temperature too much. In fact, some experts say that stretching periodically throughout the day may be of benefit. Muscle tension is kept at bay and is less likely to “take hold” and cause tension and pain this way.