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Sleep Deprivation

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Just like food and water, adequate sleep is also very essential to the human body. Our body and brain are refreshed by sleep. Even animals and babies in a mother's womb sleep to restore their lost energy. When the sleep-wake cycle is disrupted due to insufficient sleep, it results in fatigue. This can occur when one has to work in shifts or when one has to travel to a different time zone.

When a human being is fatigued, he or she becomes accident-prone and the decision-making ability gets impaired. Road accidents and work injuries are common among people who are deprived of good sleep. Today, nearly a quarter of the adult population in America is afflicted by sleep deprivation.

It remains a common condition whose symptoms include reduced memory and energy levels. Sleep deprivation also interferes with emotional mood. According to a study conducted by the University of Chicago Medical Center in 1999, our body's capability to metabolize glucose is affected significantly because of sleep deprivation. This can lead to symptoms that almost resemble early-stage diabetes.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation

Some of the common symptoms of sleep deprivation are fatigue, lack of physical energy and exhaustion. Our emotional moods are affected by exhaustion and fatigue. This condition in turn will lead to pessimism, sadness, stress and anger. To function effectively, the frontal cortex of our brain needs sufficient sleep. The ability to control speech, problem solving and accessing memory is all controlled by the frontal cortex and if there is not enough rest, these abilities are affected. If there is no sufficient rest, driving can be dangerous.

Adult symptoms of sleep deprivation may vary from those of a child. Yawning constantly, dozing off while watching a television show, poor concentration and grogginess while waking up are some of the symptoms adults display when they are deprived of sleep. The symptoms of a sleep-deprived child include irritability, daytime naps, tantrums, hyperactive behavior and moodiness. Getting out of bed in the morning is a problem for children who experience sleep deprivation.

Causes of sleep deprivation

Causes of sleep deprivation vary from lifestyle, medication, medical condition and sleeping disorders like Narcolepsy, parasomnia and apnea. Our lifestyles are often direct causes for fatigue and reduced rest. People who drink caffeine or alcohol before bedtime often get inadequate sleep. It is an occupational hazard with professionals who work in shifts and the lack of enough sleep will disturb their normal Circadian rhythm.

Similarly, medications can also affect body's natural rhythm and lead to insomnia, fatigue and restlessness. Some people may seek the help of sleeping pills, but that is not a permanent solution for sleep deprivation. Besides losing their effectiveness if taken over long periods, they also interfere with body's natural rhythms. Our sleep patterns are affected by underlying health problems, which cause fatigue. Asthma or metal health problems like depression or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Effects of sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation leads to such problems like mental impairment and mental health complications. If there is insufficient rest, some of our faculties like the ability to think, stress handling and the maintenance of a healthy immune system are all affected. It is proved in an experiment that rats in the lab died within a few weeks when they were denied rest.

Sleep deprivation and mental functioning

In order to counteract sleep deprivation effects, the brain works harder but the effectiveness is low. There is a drop in the concentration level and it affects memory too. The effects of sleep deprivation include slurred and fragmented speech and slowing down of mental reaction time. Problem solving and decision making abilities of the brain are affected. Due to rigid thought patterns of the brain, new problem solving ideas do not get generated. Hallucinations are common for people who have insufficient rest.

Sleep deprivation and emotional health

Sleep deprivation causes deterioration in emotional mood of human beings. Irritability and short temper are two common symptoms of sleep deprivation. Consequently, emotional outbursts and even violence are noticed among people who are deprived of sleep because of a loss of emotional control. Sleepiness leads to rise in stress and anxiety levels of these individuals. Stress and anxiety in turn will lead to insomnia. This kind of vicious cycle will lead to anxiety disorders and depression, if left unchecked.

Many children show aggravated Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when they have sleep problems. Though both insomnia and ADHD have similar symptoms such as irritability, concentration difficulties and impulse control, it is an indication of a problem with sleeping patterns if there is a rapid worsening of ADHD symptoms.

Sleep deprivation and body

If there is inadequate rest, it is difficult to focus the eyes properly. Performing fine motor functions also becomes difficult. There will be a drop in muscle strength and endurance because glucose metabolism is low. Insufficient rest tends to increase the appetite which leads to weight gain in some cases. There is a close relationship between adequate rest and a well functioning immune system. Chances of infections are greater because sleep deprivation appears to alter the blood levels of some important immune cells and Cytokines which is an important protein.

  • Poor concentration.
  • Difficulty in learning and studying.
  • Performance problems leading to industrial and motor vehicle accidents.
  • Repetitive skills and perceptual skills are affected.

Battling sleep deprivation

  • Every night go to bed at a fixed time.
  • The blinds should be drawn to set the right atmosphere for sleep.
  • A warm shower before going to bed will promote sleep
  • Use dim night lights.
  • Before going to bed, play any soft music that will relax the brain.
  • Avoid excess intake of fluids and caffeine before bedtime.
  • Naps during daytime will affect good night sleep. Reduce the amount of sleep in the afternoons.
  • Heat, cold, discomfort or the need to use the bathroom can all create restlessness.
  • Exercise and stimulating activities during daytime will promote good sleep later in the night.

Every one of us experience sleep problems at different stages in life. Various causes like diseases, emotional states or illness affect our ability to get sleep as well as to stay asleep. One should seek the help of a doctor or a gerontologist.

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