The fast-paced and interconnected nature of the modern world leads many people into a state of sleep deprivation. Stress, medical conditions, or even changing family circumstances can cause sleep loss. Though some of the symptoms are easier to recognize than others, once you know what to watch for, you can help yourself and others to get the full night’s sleep they need to be at their best.
What Happens During Sleep Deprivation?
Sleep deprivation affects almost all of the body’s systems. Neurons in the brain start to slow the speed at which they send signals, which also slows thinking processes, decision-making skills, and reaction times. The immune system doesn’t have the time it needs to recharge or fight off infection, leaving you more vulnerable to illness. Sleep loss causes hunger and satiety hormones to get released in different amounts than usual, leaving you with more hunger and less satiety. Prolonged sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and many other illnesses and conditions.
Recognizing Sleep Deprivation
Some symptoms of sleep deprivation are easy to identify like drooping eyelids and frequent yawning. Others are more subtle and easy to miss, for example, changes in short-term memory and recall abilities. You might not even realize that sleep deprivation is starting to change your mental and physical well-being. When driving, for example, missing an exit or forgetting the last few miles traveled can be symptoms of sleep deprivation that are easy to miss.
Sleep deprivation can also change your ability to interact with other people. Sleep loss causes the amygdala, the emotional center of your brain, to become more sensitive to negative stimuli. At the same time, the prefrontal cortex or reasoning center of the brain becomes less active. Consequently, you’re more likely to succumb to negative emotions and thoughts when you’re tired.
Sleep deprivation also alters your ability to recognize social cues and emotions in others. A study published in the Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms found that, in particular, sleep-deprived people have a problem recognizing the usual cues for happiness and sadness, which could get in the way of noticing the social signals that could prevent disagreements.
How to Get Better (and More) Sleep
The best way to prevent sleep deprivation is to get a full seven to eight hours of sleep. Take a good look at the conditions in your bedroom. A comfortable mattress that supports both your height, weight, and sleep position is essential for a good night’s rest. If you need a new bed, you can compare prices and purchase mattresses online. Also, try to keep distractions in the room down to a minimum, including dim lights, as little sound as possible, and a cool room temperature.
Good sleep also requires the development of healthy sleep habits, such as:
A Regular Bedtime: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to establish a consistent sleep-wake cycle.
Bedtime Routine: Bedtime routines work well for those who have a hard time falling asleep. A good routine should include activities that relax and calm your body such as reading a book, drinking a warm glass of milk, or taking a hot bath.
Eat Health and Smart: A well-balanced diet is good for all aspects of your health. But, when it comes to your sleep, try to avoid high-fat, heavy foods close to bedtime. If you need a late-night snack, opt for foods like bananas or almonds that aid in the production of melatonin, an important sleep hormone.
Samantha Kent is a researcher for SleepHelp.org. Her favorite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face.