Missing out on a few nights’ sleep may not seem like a big deal, but sleep deprivation can be very dangerous. The danger isn’t just to you, but to other people around you. Sleep deprivation can also cause serious and long term harm to your quality of life that can be difficult to recover from. Here is an overview of why sleep deprivation is considered so dangerous, and what you can do about it so you aren’t in harm’s way.
Thinking, awareness and reaction
We all know what it is like to sleep poorly and then to have a difficult time “waking up” the next day. If you start to become sleep deprived, you take that tired feeling and amplify it tenfold. It isn’t just a case that you don’t feel awake, it is that your become unable to think clearly and to react as quickly as you may need to. This is called impaired cognition and reaction time. Many professions that rely on the person being awake, aware and able to react quickly have special rules in place to make sure that the person gets enough time off to ensure proper sleep.
Unfortunately, just because you have the time off to sleep doesn’t mean that you will get the kind of quality sleep that you need. More accidents, and fatal accidents, are being attributed to one of the people involved having sleep deprivation than ever before. When you are sleep deprived your reaction time is slowed as if you have been drinking or taking in a substance. It also takes your brain longer to process input and signals to know what to do.
The clouded and slow thinking doesn’t just tie into how well you can drive a car or fly a plane, sleep deprivation can interfere with how you make decisions. It is easier to become overwhelmed because your brain cannot process the signals that are coming in and put them together with associations and patterns to generate a decision. Studies have shown that this decision making process is dependent on the quality of nerve and synapse endings and the hormones that allow brain signals to travel between each. This coating and hormone is recharged while you sleep.
Neural endings and operations are repaired each night, but if you are sleep deprived you aren’t getting that time to do your decision making maintenance. Another impact of sleep deprivation is that your REM stage sleep becomes disrupted. While science doesn’t really understand the way that REM stage works to help us process and learn from experiences, they have proven that not getting enough makes thinking and decision making difficult.
Responding to emergencies
If you are sleep deprived you are also less capable of being able to respond to emergencies. This is a combination of the effect of having confused thinking, an inability to process the environment around you quickly and poor reaction times. The emergencies can be anything from a dangerously close call on the road, to responding to the physical and emotional signals another person sends that tells you they need more of your attention. It is also easier to become overwhelmed and to have a higher stress reaction to emergencies when you are sleep deprived because your mind and body have not had adequate time to repair themselves to keep you ready and able for whatever life brings your way.
Sleep deprivation is associated with many health issues that are life threatening. As it raises stress levels it causes physical reactions that can compromise the immune system and basic metabolic function. Prolonged periods of sleep deprivation have been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, obesity, stroke, immune dysfunction and high blood pressure. There is also some findings that suggest that sleep deprivation can also contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes. It is also known to aggravate chronic conditions and chronic pain conditions that can make symptom management more difficult.
Mental health issues
It should come as no surprise that since one of the main effects of sleep deprivation is a reduction in cognitive ability and an increase in stress that it is a leading contributor to the development of clinical depression and anxiety disorders. It also contributes to complications with other types of serious mental illness. By reducing the brain’s ability to work correctly and impairing hormonal functions, brain chemistry is transformed when there is a period of sleep deprivation. This change in brain chemistry can complicate or create mental health issues. It is also not uncommon for many relationship difficulties to stem from the cognitive impairment of one or both people being sleep deprived.
Overcoming sleep deprivation
Overcoming sleep deprivation isn’t as simple as “catching up” on a few night’s sleep or taking a prescription pill. The body is designed to adapt to stress and the stress of being deprived of sleep can cause it to create new patterns that it believes are normal. This adaptation can change physical and brain chemistry. To undo this and to get back to healthy sleep typically requires that diet and lifestyle habits be addressed as well as using supplementation or medication to get the body back on track.
What to do if you are sleep deprived
If you are experiencing sleep deprivation you shouldn’t underestimate the serious of the problem. Before it gets a chance to cause trouble in your life you should be proactive in taking care of your sleep issues. Find out more about how your diet can affect your sleep and make changes. Stop drinking alcohol as it can interfere with sleep and talk to your physician about making sure that you don’t have any other underlying conditions that can be contributing. It is very important that you work to reduce your stress levels as well. You should also explore different supplements or herbal remedies to help you fall and stay asleep too. If they don’t work, talk to your doctor about taking a temporary sleep medication to jumpstart getting a good night’s sleep.