One of the questions that appears frequently in health forums and as a general Internet search is whether or not you can die of sleep deprivation. The answer to this question is a frightening and definite – yes.
What is even more frightening is that the death can be instantaneous, it can come with long and prolonged suffering, and you can kill other people too. How can sleep deprivation do all that?
Here is an explanation of some of the effects of sleep deprivation and why you need to do everything you can to get your sleep back on track.
How to kill someone by not getting enough sleep (including yourself)
Sleep deprivation, even the smallest amount, radically effects your reaction abilities and your cognitive skills. Think about what your day is like when you don’t get enough sleep, or have a hard time sleeping the night before. How often during the day are you surprised or caught off guard by something and you jump or slam on the breaks?
What is happening is that your brain is losing its ability to take in new stimulus and figure out what it means and what your body should do. To do all this, the brain needs to fire messages across neural synapses that are dependent on a complicated hormonal and chemical system to work efficiently.
You don’t have an endless power supply of these neurochemicals, they are restored each night when you sleep; your synapses are also cleaned and repaired too. One bad night’s sleep is the equivalent to putting on a pair of foggy glasses and trying to drive a bus on a sidewalk.
You can see, but your ability to know what you are seeing is slowed down. When your brain does figure out what to do, the message to the muscles, and your eye to hand coordination is also impaired.
This is why in professions that are dependent on reflexes and reaction – such as flying a plane or operating a machine there are rules about how long a shift may be and how soon a shift can occur after the end of the last one.
These labor rules are supported by medical evidence that the brain must rest and go through the appropriate sleep stages in order for you to have your normal thinking capacity and reflex reactions.
This may not seem like a big deal if you aren’t a pilot or a crane operator, but almost everyone drives a car and in a split second – you can lose control and cause death or injury to yourself or others. It doesn’t take much to not make the right choice and being sleep deprived increases your chances of making the wrong one, or no choice at all significantly.
If you prefer a slow and lingering death, don’t sleep
If you feel like your naps and energy drinks are enough to keep you safe on the road so you don’t need to worry about crashing your care, you should be aware of the long term affects of repeated sleep deprivation. Lack of proper sleep doesn’t just change your ability to think and lower your reaction times, it impairs the bodies immune system.
The body is a very complex machine and it needs all of its parts to be in good working order in order to be able to care for itself. Sleep is a form of maintenance time for the entire body, not just the brain. Sleep deprivation has been linked to the development of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and an increased stroke risk.
But wait, there is still more…
Sleep deprivation doesn’t just mess up your metabolic system and immune system, it can change your neurochemistry so you can acquire some serious mental illnesses. One of the hallmarks of people who develop major depression is chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation also increases feelings of stress and anxiety, and it can lead to a paranoid experience or psychotic break.
Again, almost all of this stems from the fact that a lack of sleep diminishes your ability to see patterns, make connections and engage in right thinking. The longer you go without good sleep, the higher your chances of creating a thought process that then becomes a life pattern.
Unfortunately, as with major depression, it isn’t as easy as just getting a good night’s sleep to correct it. Clinical depression is a result of a permanent change to the brain’s chemical balance that may result in life long treatment for the condition.
What should you do?
Your best bet is to be proactive whenever your sleep becomes disrupted. Don’t let sleep deprivation become a habit. You can’t adjust to a lack of sleep, it will just build until it causes serious harm in your life. There are three things you should do right away to get a hold of your sleep habits:
- Get back into a regular routine of sleep.
- Watch your diet and avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugar.
- Talk to your doctor to make sure that your sleep problems aren’t a result of a medication or supplement you are taking.
You may be surprised to find out just how many medications, and all natural supplements, have the potential side effect of insomnia. Many of them will only acquire a risk of that side effect when taken with another medication, supplement or over the counter treatment that you wouldn’t even stop to think about.
Fresh air and exercise
It may almost sound too simple but one of the best ways to avoid sleep deprivation is to make sure you are getting outside on a regular basis and then you are exercising. Studies have shown that vitamin D is critical to having a healthy sleep pattern. While you can take a supplement for it, getting outside remains the best way to absorb it. Combine that with regular exercise and you can do much to get yourself back on track to having a good night’s sleep fast.