“What are sleep deprivation effects, symptoms and health consequences, and how is not getting enough sleep night after night different from a single bad sleep?”
In Somnology (the study of sleep), sleep deprivation is divided into two types, chronic and acute. As the names suggest, chronic sleep deprivation is continually getting less sleep than you need, while acute sleep deprivation is getting less sleep than you need for a night or two and generally implies a quick return to a healthy sleep schedule. These two types of sleep deprivation have different consequences for health and well being. While this post is not exhaustive, I’ve broken down some of the effects of chronic and acute sleep deprivation and what you can do to get back on track.
Effects of Chronic Sleep Deprivation
According to a 2013 gallup poll, 40% of American adults are chronically sleep deprived, getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night. While these stats suggest that it is “normal” to be sleep deprived, it certainly doesn’t come without consequences. Chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with:
- Reduced levels of the appetite-control hormone leptin, leading to increased risk of obesity
- Increased risk of Type II Diabetes
- Increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk of dementia
- Increased risk of cancer
- Reduced immune system functioning leading to higher risks of infections
- Increased risk of depression and other psychiatric disorders
Acute Sleep Deprivation Symptoms
- Reduced coordination leading to accidents and injury–after sleeping only 4-5 hours in the last 24 hours, the risk of motor vehicle accidents is 5.4 times greater than when sleeping at least 7 hours in the last 24 hours. This is comparable to the crash rate of driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.12 to 0.15.
- Increased anxiety
- Increased stress hormone production
- Reduced energy expenditure and increased drive to eat, which together over time will lead to weight gain
- Reduced focus and alertness
- Reduced athletic performance
What Can You Do About Lack of Sleep? (Sleep deprivation treatment)
Rising rates of chronic sleep deprivation in the US are often attributed to increased demands on our time. The good news, there are ways many of us can get more sleep without increasing the time dedicated to sleep, simply by making a few changes to our sleep routines and environments.
Last month, we released the results of a survey of the top 100 sleepers on WHOOP, as well as research on how improving Sleep Consistency can improve your Sleep Efficiency, leading to more sleep without extending your time in bed. That said, if you are dedicating less than 7 hours a night to sleep, no amount of bedtime routine changes are going to make that sufficient. If it’s not possible to get 7 hours of sleep in one go, consider finding time for a nap–even adding 30 minutes of sleep can make a big difference towards how good you feel and reducing your risk of adverse health events.
While it is practically impossible to never be sleep deprived, when you find yourself acutely sleep deprived, the best things you can do are make time to catch back up on sleep and know your limitations. Don’t get behind the wheel of a car or operate heavy machinery, and be aware that your hormones are out of whack and dietary cravings might be pushing you towards a snack or second helping your body doesn’t actually need.
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