Sleep deprivation epidemic – How to treat it

Almost all of us have felt like a "zombie" after a night of little or no sleep

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Almost all of us have felt like a "zombie" after a night of little or no sleep. After all, according to the most recent figures from the Ministry of Health, around 2 million Greeks seem to suffer from sleep disorders.

Overall in the countries of the European Union (EU) about one in three adults face similar problems. Even after just one night without enough rest, we can feel sleepy during the day with slow thinking, lack of energy and irritable mood.

The phenomenon affects women, shift workers and the elderly more, where sleep problems appear to affect around 50% of the population of these groups.

On the occasion of World Sleep Day, the Magazine analyzes the problem of sleep deprivation, which afflicts millions of people around the world every day, and proposes solutions to improve and deal with the situation.

Ti is sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation occurs when we do not supplement sleep, a problem that has worsened even more in recent years with the pandemic.

Sleep deprivation refers to getting less than the required amount of sleep, which for adults ranges from six to nine hours of sleep each night.

Children and teenagers need even more sleep at night than adults.

Lack of sleep directly affects how we think and feel. And while the short-term effects are more noticeable, chronic sleep deprivation can increase the long-term risk of physical and mental problems.

To avoid these problems, it is important to address the lack of sleep.

Understanding this condition, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, can help you deal with the problem and ensure you get the sleep you need.

Are all definitions of sleep deprivation the same?

In sleep medicine, sleep deprivation is defined by sleep duration and refers to the total time a person sleeps.

But in reality, good rest is more than just how many hours one sleeps.

As a result, the terms sleep deprivation or sleep deficiency are more commonly used to describe factors that reduce the amount or even quality of sleep and prevent a person from waking up refreshed.

In this way, the lack of sleep has a greater impact. For example, a person who sleeps a total of eight hours but has many awakenings that fragment their sleep may be getting insufficient sleep, even though their sleep duration technically meets the recommended amount of time.

Even in the medical field, scientific studies may use different technical definitions of sleep deprivation, with some defining seven hours of sleep or less, while others define six hours as the upper limit.

Sleep deprivation and sleep deficiency can be categorized in different ways depending on a person's life circumstances.

Acute sleep deprivation refers to a short period, usually a few days or less, where a person has significantly reduced sleep time.

Chronic sleep deprivation, also known as insufficient sleep syndrome, is defined by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as limited sleep that persists for three months or more.

Chronic sleep deprivation or insufficient sleep can describe ongoing sleep deprivation as well as poor sleep that occurs due to sleep fragmentation or other disorders.

It is sleep deprivation different from insomnia

While both insomnia and sleep deprivation involve a lack of sleep, many sleep science experts make a distinction between the two concepts. People with insomnia have trouble falling asleep even when they have enough time to sleep.

Many people can only sleep with the help of medication. On the other hand, sleep-deprived people do not have enough time to sleep, either as a result of behavioral choices or daily obligations.

One illustration of this difference is that people who are sleep-deprived due to a busy work schedule usually have no problem sleeping more on the weekends in an attempt to "make up" for the lost sleep.

Someone with insomnia, however, still has trouble falling asleep, despite the opportunity to do so.

There can be considerable overlap between how sleep deprivation and insomnia are described, but patients should be aware that their doctor, or a sleep specialist, may use more specific definitions.

What causes sleep deprivation?

Many factors can cause or contribute to lack of sleep, including poor sleep hygiene, lifestyle choices, work commitments, sleep disorders, and other medical conditions.

Sleep deprivation is often caused as a result of personal choices that reduce available sleep time. For example, a person who decides to stay up late to watch a TV series may experience acute sleep deprivation.

An inconsistent sleep schedule can "build" such habits and unintentionally make them seem innocent at the time. Work commitments are another common contributor to sleep deprivation.

People who work different jobs or long hours may not have enough time for adequate sleep. Shift workers who have to work through the night can also struggle to get the sleep they really need. Lack of sleep can be caused by other sleep disorders or medical conditions.

For example, sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that causes dozens of nighttime awakenings, can hinder both sleep duration and quality.

Other medical or mental health problems, such as pain or general anxiety disorder, can affect the quality and quantity of sleep.

What are the symptoms of sleep deprivation?

The main signs and symptoms of sleep deprivation include excessive daytime sleepiness and daytime fatigue, impaired concentration, slower thinking, and mood changes.

Feeling very tired during the day is one of the main signs of sleep deprivation.

People with excessive daytime sleepiness may find it difficult to stay awake even when necessary.

Insufficient sleep can directly affect how a person feels during waking hours.

Examples of these symptoms include:

Slow thinking
Decreased attention
Impaired memory
Poor or risky decision making
Lack of energy
Mood changes including feelings of anxiety, worry or irritability
A person's symptoms can depend on the extent of their sleep deprivation and whether it is acute or chronic.

Recent research also shows that some people are more likely to experience symptoms after a lack of sleep and this may also be linked to a person's genetics.

Stimulants like caffeine can also mask the symptoms of sleep deprivation, so it's important to notice how you feel with or without consuming these substances.

The consequences of sleep deprivation

The effects of sleep deprivation and sleep deficiency can be severe and far-reaching. Acute sleep deprivation increases the risk of inadvertent errors and accidents. Driving while drowsy, in which we have slow reflexes and an increased chance of falling into micro-sleep, can be life-threatening.

Many stay in bed for hours with their eyes open, as the onset of sleep is difficult

People who are sleep-deprived are more likely to experience difficulties at school and work, or experience mood swings that can affect their personal relationships.

Chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to a wide range of health problems.

Sleep plays a fundamental role in the efficient functioning of almost all body systems, so a prolonged lack of sleep creates significant risks for physical and mental health:

Cardiovascular disease: Studies have found strong associations between sleep deprivation and cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Diabetes: Insufficient sleep appears to affect the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, increasing the risk of metabolic conditions such as diabetes.

Obesity: Research has found that people tend to consume more calories and carbohydrates when they don't get enough sleep, revealing one way poor sleep may be linked to obesity and problems maintaining a healthy weight.

Immunodeficiency: Lack of sleep has been shown to lead to impaired immune function, including a poorer response to vaccines.

Hormonal disruptions: Sleep helps the body produce and properly regulate the levels of various hormones, potentially increasing the likelihood of hormone problems in sleep-deprived individuals.

Pain: Sleep-deprived people are at greater risk of developing pain or feeling that their pain is getting worse. Pain can cause further sleep disruptions, creating a vicious cycle of worsening pain and sleep.

Mental health disorders: Sleep and mental health are closely linked, and poor sleep has strong associations with conditions such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Given these diverse and important effects of sleep deprivation, it is not surprising that studies have found that sleep deprivation is associated with a greater overall risk of death as well as a lower quality of life.

At the societal level, the effects of sleep deprivation are enormous. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 6.000 deaths each year are caused by sleepiness.

Lack of sleep has also been estimated to cost hundreds of billions in additional health care costs, as well as over $400 billion in lost productivity annually in the US alone.

Sleep deprivation diagnosis

Doctors can often diagnose sleep deprivation by discussing the patient's symptoms and sleep patterns. This may include creating a sleep diary or completing a sleep questionnaire, which provides a detailed look at your sleep patterns and daytime symptoms.

In some cases, additional tests and sleep monitoring with medical devices, known as an overnight sleep study, may be performed if more information is needed or if a doctor suspects the patient may have an underlying sleep disorder.

Sleep study centers exist in all major hospitals in the country, but also in regional health centers.

How to prevent and treat sleep deprivation

If you have frequent or worsening problems with insufficient sleep or daytime sleepiness, working with your doctor is a good first step toward relief.

Your doctor can assess your condition and recommend treatment that best suits your needs.

In most cases, focusing on sleep hygiene (your sleep environment and daily habits) is a central component of preventing and treating sleep deprivation.

Treat the sleep deprivation, not the symptoms

Many people are sleep deprived because they accept sleep deprivation as normal.

Instead of taking the necessary measures to sleep more, they consume caffeine, energy drinks, or try to cope with everyday life with little sleep.

Neither of these approaches is a viable solution to sleep deprivation.

They may help you get through the day, but the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation will still take a toll in both the short and long term.

For this reason, it is important to stop accepting lack of sleep as normal and focus more on sleep and better quality rest.

Make sleep a priority

Chronic sleep deprivation often occurs when people choose to sacrifice sleep due to work, personal leisure or other commitments. To stop this, it is important to take steps to make sleep a priority:

Keep a consistent sleep schedule: You should try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. When planning these times, be sure to make time to get enough sleep. When you settle on your schedule, stick to it carefully, even on weekends. Consistency in your sleep routine helps prevent fluctuations in your nightly sleep.

Set boundaries in your work and social life: It's easy for the demands of your personal or professional life to sacrifice time from your sleep schedule, so it's helpful to set boundaries so that you maintain the full amount of time you need to rest each night.

Create a bedtime routine: Get ready every night with the same steps, such as leisurely reading, stretching, putting on pajamas and brushing your teeth. A consistent bedtime routine can put you in the right frame of mind for a good night's sleep.

Design your bedroom

Design your bedroom environment so that it is ideal for relaxation.

You are less likely to fall asleep if your sleeping environment is attractive and comfortable to your liking.

Your mattress and pillows should offer proper support and the covers should help you feel comfortable while maintaining a moderate temperature.

To minimize potential sleep disturbances, try to make sure your room is as quiet and dark as possible.

Avoid anything that can affect sleep

A useful step in dealing with sleep deprivation is to avoid habits that often unknowingly affect your sleep negatively:

Electronic devices: TVs, cell phones, tablets and computers can keep your mind alert, keeping you hyper-stimulated while you want to go to sleep. The light emitted by these devices can also affect the circadian rhythm. As a result, it is best to avoid using electronic devices for an hour or more before bed.

Alcohol: Drinking alcohol, especially at night, can disrupt the normal sleep cycle, reducing the overall quality and consistency of sleep.

Caffeine: As a stimulant, caffeine makes you alert, and because it can stay in your system for several hours, it's best to avoid it in the afternoon and evening.

Short naps: In order not to interfere with the night's sleep, keep them short (30 minutes or less) and never sleep in the late afternoon or later. If you struggle with insomnia, it's best to avoid "naps" altogether.

Make the most of the day

Frequent exposure to sunlight during the day supports a healthy circadian rhythm, helping you to be alert during the day and sleepy at night.

Regular physical activity can also contribute to a regular sleep schedule, so try to get some light exercise every day.

Source: News24/