How to Overcome Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation not only impacts our work and social lives, but often leads to a number of medical complications. Chronic sleep deprivation can be debilitating and contributes to whole body inflammation, but there are some surefire ways to prevent the negative effects of going into sleep debt.
The American Sleep Association reports that more than 35% of adults in the US get less than 7 hours of sleep — below the 7 - 9 hours of quality sleep necessary for optimal health. It’s probably not shocking to learn that a large chunk of the US population is sleep deprived. What’s even more interesting is that getting enough sleep is not only essential for your health and wellbeing, but it also affects those around you.
It’s a vital function of the human body, but so many of us don’t get enough, and the way society is trending means we’ll continue getting less and less needed quality sleep unless a major societal shift occurs. Fortunately, the latest in sleep science has provided a path back to healthy sleep habits, including steps to overcome chronic sleep deprivation!
Common Causes of Sleep Deprivation
Before looking at what to do if you are truly sleep deprived, we need to first understand the possible reasons behind your sleep deprivation. This will be key to identifying the core problems and finding natural methods to solve the problem.
A few common causes of sleep deprivation include:
Did you know that two sleep disorders are the most common culprits behind lost slumber? According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50 million US citizens suffer from sleep disorders. The two most common sleep disorders are:
- Insomnia – A sleeping disorder that makes it difficult for a person to fall and stay asleep, and is often caused by stress, anxiety, or depression. Research suggests that 1 in 3 people suffer from this disorder.
- Sleep apnea – Affecting over 22 million adults in the US, sleep apnea is a disorder where a person’s breathing pauses mid-sleep, usually because of an obstruction in the airway. Having this disorder could really take its toll on your sleep.
Working night shifts
According to the 2011 EPMA Journal, people who work night shifts most commonly report fatigue, drowsiness, and other symptoms of sleep deprivation. Perhaps one of the major reasons behind this is that our circadian rhythms (the process that maintains the sleep cycle) align with the cycle of day and night, making most of us feel drowsy at night and active during the day. Unfortunately, night shift workers don’t get the privilege of indulging in slumber at night, which creates imbalances in their sleep cycles.
Overworking and pulling all-nighters are some common causes of sleep deprivation in both teenagers and adults. Being a workaholic can really take its toll on your body, and can even lead to insomnia. The same goes for high school and college students who pull all-nighters to catch up on their homework or cram for exams.
Little Bundles of Joy
Children are a blessing, but any new parent will tell you, new babies often means less sleep, as they wake up frequently throughout the night. Even if they don't wake, parent's often sleep lightly, their senses tuned for the sound of their little ones in need of care. If you have multiple little ones close in age, this can result in years of sleep deprivation.
Jet lag, which is a disrupted sleep cycle resulting from a long flight, is a cause of sleep deprivation amongst frequent travelers. Jet lag, just like daylight savings time, has been proven to cause the body a lot of stress, though fortunately this is usually only an acute sleep deprivation (as opposed to a chronic problem).
Tips to Combat Sleep Deprivation
Here are a few, natural health tips and advice on overcoming sleep deprivation:
Be mindful of when you have caffeine
About 90% of the American population consumes caffeine, making it the most popular drug in the country. But if you are someone who suffers from chronic sleep deprivation, be mindful of when and how much caffeine you are consuming. Caffeine kicks the heart rate up and induces a state of alertness.
You shouldn’t have to surrender your love for coffee forever, but if you are truly not able to sleep well week after week, you should strongly rethink your cup of joe every morning. In fact, caffeine can actually provide amazing benefits:
- It can improve memory
- It detoxes the liver
- It is great for alleviating post-workout muscle soreness
- It promotes hair growth
And the list goes on. However, if you find it challenging to sleep at night, it’s important to look at when you consume caffeine. To fight off the symptoms of sleep deprivation, people often end up drinking coffee or sodas too close to bedtime, making it difficult to fall asleep. Did you know that caffeine takes 4 - 6 hours to wear off? With that in mind, it makes sense that you should avoid drinking coffee after 1 pm.
The best time to enjoy caffeine’s benefits is in the mornings. If you’re working night shifts, then reverse the regimen. It’s also important to make sure you’re not drinking too much. Keep it below 300 milligrams/day a day. Also, try a yummy, sleep-inducing nighttime beverage.
Get enough movement
Research funded by the National Sleep Foundation suggests that getting enough physical exercise can help overcome sleeping disorders like insomnia and improve the overall quality of sleep. To enter the land of dreams with ease, experts are now recommending engaging in physical exercises closer to bedtime. Traditionally, experts have suggested not exercising at night as part of good sleep hygiene. Now a new study, published Oct. 29, 2018, in Sports Medicine, suggests that you can exercise in the evening as long as you avoid vigorous activity for at least one hour before bedtime.
The science behind this is simple:
- Exercising causes the body temperature to rise.
- Afterwards, the temperature drops, making your body feel cooler and relaxed, all of which can promote good sleep.
All the credit goes to the endorphins (the human body’s natural painkillers) that are released during exercise.
What are some of the best types of exercises for sleep?
Put away your electronics
The human brain responds to bright lights with alertness. This is one of the reasons why we tend to be alert during the day. However, if you don’t have a sleeping disorder, didn’t just get off a super long flight, aren’t dealing with an extraordinary amount of stress, and don’t remember the last time you had a cup of coffee, there could still another culprit: your gadgets. A growing body of science suggests that the use of electronics while in bed can keep a person awake because of the blue light emitted from the electronic smart devices.
The suppression of melatonin is the worst factor. Melatonin is a crucial hormone that maintains the sleep-wake cycle and its peak-production occurs during nighttime, which aids in sleeping. However, the light emitted by your gadgets — including smartphones, televisions, tablets, or laptop computers — can directly affect the production of melatonin, which in turn can keep you awake. So, the next time you go to bed, make sure to put away all the gadgets that you own at least an hour before bedtime. Try as hard as you can to avoid waiting to fall asleep while scrolling down Facebook and get all that work done before you go to bed.
Gradually repay your sleep debt
If you’re currently going through acute sleep deprivation because of something temporary (like working overtime for a project, studying for exams, or traveling), then you have nothing to worry about, so long as it remains temporary. However, once you’re free, it can be tempting to sleep for an extended time and catch up on missed sleep all at once. But sleeping too much can also disrupt your circadian rhythm, which can make you feel sluggish and fatigued throughout the day. So, instead of sleeping for 10 - 14 hours straight, try making up the lost hours of sleep throughout the week, one extra hour a day.
For Parents: Walks, Naps, and Support from Others
If your sleep deprivation is the result of caring for tiny humans, there are a few things you can adjust to help make it easier. The National Sleep Foundation recommends taking the baby for morning walks, as the exposure to sunlight not only helps reset your circadian rhythm, it can help the baby develop a natural sleep cycle. Of course parents always recommend doing your best to nap when the baby naps, and take every opportunity to catch up on your own sleep when you can. And finally, ask your partner to share nighttime baby duties with you if possible. If you're breastfeeding, then ask your partner, or friends, or other members of the household, to help you out in other ways like picking up the slack on housework or watching the baby while you nap.
Try natural supplements
If you feel that you’re still not getting enough sleep, consider giving sleep supplements a shot. Look for supplements that include 3 mg of melatonin and also include ingredients that help stimulate increased serotonin naturally. Also try taking a magnesium supplement.
Sacrificing your sleep, even a few hours of it, can be devastating for your health if it becomes chronic — as it has for millions of Americans. If you feel drowsy, irritable, and stressed all the time, it could very well mean that you’re not getting enough zzz’s. Follow the tips mentioned above and you’ll find that it’s easy to overcome sleep deprivation with some commitment. Do it not just for your mental and physical health, but for the betterment of everyone around you too!