Most mammals sleep for short periods of the day while human lives are broken in to periods of sleep and wakefulness. However, our bodies are programed for two periods of sleep: in the early morning (2-4 a.m.) and in the afternoon (1-3 p.m.).
Sleep deprivation as defined by WebMD.com is a sufficient lack of restorative sleep over a cumulative period so as to cause physical or psychiatric symptoms and affect routine performances of tasks. 1
Nurses and doctors, truck drivers, shift workers, soldiers and mothers are some of the professions at highest risk for sleep deprivation. A sure sign that individuals are sleep deprived is that they fall asleep almost immediately upon entering a comfortable environment. A well-rested person will take around 15 minutes to fall asleep.
Are you sleep deprived?
You may be sleep deprived if you require an alarm clock to wake up in the morning at the correct time or if waking up in the morning is extremely difficult. Additionally if you have difficulty remembering, concentrating or driving, it is likely you are not getting the appropriate amount of sleep. Sleep deprived individuals also tend to fall asleep while watching television, during meetings or lectures, after heavy meals or low doses of alcohol or very quickly after getting into bed. They also may require a nap to get through the day or some sort of stimulant to stay awake. 2
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Some people are sleep deprived because of poor sleeping situation, discomfort while sleeping, being overworked or a sleep disorder. Most individuals today are sleep deprived and remain unaware and unconcerned with the negative effects sleep deprivation can have on our minds and bodies. Some of the symptoms of sleep deprivation include:
- Daytime drowsiness
- “microsleeps” or brief moments of sleep that cause individuals to lose focus
- Mood swings, depression and irritability
- Loss of coping skills and stress
- No desire for social interaction
- Weight gain due to intake of sugary drinks and food in order to stay awake
- Reduced immune system functioning to help prevent disease and viral infection
- Loss of motivation and feelings of lethargy
- Reduced productivity2
Sleep deprivation is often disguised to individuals who experience it because they appear to be very alert when actively involved in a project, but tend to fall asleep any time they are not being mentally or physically stimulated.
Other negative health risks include increased risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems when regularly getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night based on a study from the University of Warwick. The study also indicated an increased risk of stroke for individuals who are sleep deprived. 3
Depriving the body and mind of rest is not only dangerous and disruptive to the individual’s life, but also to those interacting and experiencing the consequences of their bad decisions. For example, there are various instances of airplane pilots, truck drivers and train engineers being so exhausted they have crashed or nearly crashed their vehicles causing death to other people and themselves as well as millions of dollars in damage. The likelihood of accidents occurring increases when individuals have not had adequate rest.
For instance, in 1974 an Eastern Airlines captain crashed his airliner, killing all crew and passengers on the plane. This occurred 30 minutes after reporting to the control tower that he desperately needed rest.2
Napping is even an effective way to avoid being severely sleep deprived. Getting to sleep and making sure the body is fully rested is vital to survival and success in life.
2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.