You are exhausted. Maybe you work overnight and don’t sleep well during the day, or work a lot of hours, or are a parent of an infant or special needs child. Maybe you have sleep apnea, and are constantly awakened through the night.
You’re not alone. Here are some sleep deprivation facts for the United States:
Sleep deprivation is more than fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness. It has many causes and harmful effects on the body, including chronic diseases. It’s even a form of torture used by many governments around the world.
What are Causes of Sleep Deprivation?
One of the primary reasons for sleep deprivation is personal responsibilities. This includes caring for newborns or other people with a chronic illness. Often, caretakers only sleep in short increments without transitioning into a restorative sleep cycle.
If you work long hours, swing shifts, or overnight, shortened sleep times are probably old news to you. Sleeping during daylight hours and irregular sleep patterns can also prevent restorative sleep. Daytime sleep interruptions like phones, people doing yardwork or construction, and even family members or roommates will frequently wake you.
Certain medical problems can cause sleep deprivation, such as:
Some types of sleep deprivation are self-imposed. If you stay up to binge watch TV or finish “just one more chapter” in a book, you are shortening your own sleep. If this occurs for over 3 months, you may have what experts call “Behaviorally-induced insufficient sleep syndrome.” Blue light from electronics like cell phones and computers can also contribute to sleep deprivation.
Conditions Caused by Sleep Deprivation
The most obvious drawback of sleep deprivation is fatigue and daytime drowsiness. You are at an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents or other injuries if you don’t get enough sleep. This poses a risk not only to you, but the general population as well.
Memory problems, concentration, and problem-solving skills are diminished with lack of sleep. Associated decreases in performance include longer reaction times and lack of coordination or balance. This is another contributing factor to automobile accidents. This can also affect work performance, family and friends, and cause frustration for you – increasing anxiety or agitation, which can cause you to lose more sleep.
Anxiety can cause sleep deprivation, and sleep deprivation can cause anxiety. Other mood changes associated with sleep deprivation include depression, emotional lability, and anger. This affects friends, family, work performance, and also contributes to more sleeplessness.
If you can’t sleep, it will weaken your immune system. You will be more susceptible to viral diseases like the cold or flu. It can also cause latent or intermittent diseases, like herpes or even rheumatoid arthritis, to flare up.
You are at increased risk for heart and circulatory problems if you have sleep deprivation. Blood pressure will increase, and higher levels of certain inflammatory markers will be found in your blood. Both can contribute to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Weight gain and diabetes often go hand in hand with sleep deprivation. You are more likely to overeat since your body thinks it needs more energy. When compounded by insulin regulation problems from lack of sleep, you are more prone to diabetes. If you are already diabetic, this will contribute to poorly-controlled blood sugar readings.
Chronic sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations or other psychosis-related symptoms. If you already have a mental illness, it can be exacerbated without restorative sleep. It’s best to talk to your psychiatrist to address sleep issues.
Sleep deprivation is not limited to any particular age group or gender – it spans across all demographics. Although the states with the highest reports of sleep deprivation are Hawaii and Kentucky, certain areas of the U.S. are more prone to short sleep times, like the Southeast. Minnesota, North Dakota, and Colorado report the least people affected by short sleep times.
Causes of sleep deprivation are varied, and include everything from chronic disease and pain to endocrine issues, like hyperthyroidism. Some people even engage in behaviors that result in sleep deprivation, like watching TV or reading books. Still others expose themselves to blue light near bedtime or in bed, which causes disruption in sleep cycles.
Sleep deprivation causes and exacerbates many illnesses and conditions. It increases your risk of cardiovascular issues by increasing inflammation and blood pressure. It weakens your immune system, causes poor judgment and lack of coordination, and worsens many mental illnesses.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you can get some sleep!