Chronic sleep-deprivation

Symptoms of chronic sleep-deprivation manifest when an individual regularly does not achieve enough sleep (usually 7 and 8 hours per night). This interferes with good health and optimal brain function. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is a common and dangerous entity in today's modern society.

Sleep deprivation can occur voluntarily (such as from working two or more jobs, shift-work, a busy life and family commitments), or secondary to a primary sleep disorder that causes wakefulness or chronic sleep disruption (such as from pain, insomnia, obstructive sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder). Whatever the cause, sleep-deprivation has detrimental effects on the mind.

Sleep deprivation means insufficient sleep; although common in modern society, sleep deprivation has significant consequences on health and well-being.

Symptoms:

Symptoms associated with insufficient sleep include feeling tired, irritability, slurred speech, blurred vision, memory loss, inability to concentrate, episodes of confusion, hallucinations, nausea, impotence and reduced sexual drive. Extreme sleep deprivation can cause psychosis and death. However, there are no documented cases of a healthy human dying from sleep deprivation (although mortality from accidents does occur). Before death occurs in healthy, sleep-deprived humans, the brain forces itself to have 'micro-sleeps'.

The consequences of chronic sleep deprivation may include:

  • Diabetes - sleep deprivation affects the body's ability to burn glucose, increasing the risk of diabetes
  • Obesity - sleep deprivation disrupts hormones in the body which control appetite. Research in the US has found that middle-aged people who sleep less than 7 hours per night are more likely to be obese. Also, obesity increases the risk of breathing-related sleep disorders such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea, which impair sleep-quality and contribute to sleep-deprivation
  • Reduced immunity and increased susceptibility to illness
  • Impaired memory and reduced cognitive performance
  • Neurological and behavioural changes

Treatment

This is easy in theory: achieve more sleep. Humans require an average of 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, and some people require more. This is sometimes easier said than done, especially in our modern, hectic society. In addition to increasing sleep-time, patients with sleep-deprivation need to maximise the quality of their sleep by ensuring that any other sleep-disorders are well treated, and by practicing good sleep-habits (click here for sleep-habit information)