Sleep Debt – Its Causes, Diagnosis, And Treatment.

Most of us do not get enough sleep. However, just as with exercising and nutrition, sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. When you ignore it over a period of time, you create a sleep debt which leads to further health problems.

What Is Sleep Debt?

Based on his/her age, each person is supposed to sleep for a certain number of hours every day. This is called the average daily sleep amount and it ranges from 12-18 hours for newborns to 7.5-9 hours for adults.

However, it is rare that any of us sleep for that length of time every day. And when that happens over and over, day after day, you end up with sleep debt.

Sleep debt is the accumulated difference between the average recommended daily sleep amount and the actual hours spent sleeping every night.

If this difference is too large, then it is termed as sleep deprivation and it leads to both physical and mental fatigue. Other factors that affect sleep debt include the sleep cycle and the stages of sleep.

Sleep – Relationship Between Sleep Cycle And Sleep Deficit

Many people believe that sleep is the time when your brain shuts off and the body goes to rest. On the contrary, your brain actually remains busy during sleep, supervising all the necessary maintenance tasks to prepare you for the day ahead.

Getting a good night’s sleep is not just about the hours of sleep but also about the quality of your sleep.When you feel like you are sleep deprived in spite of sleeping well every night, it is often because you are not getting enough of the REM and deep sleep periods.

In addition to that, the sleep-wake cycle (otherwise referred to as the circadian rhythm or biological clock) plays a critical role in our sleep quality. At night, your brain responds by producing a hormone called melatonin to induce sleepiness while inhibiting the same hormone production during the day. Disruption in this sleep cycle can produce sleep debt.

Cause Of Sleep Debt

Most of us have busy lifestyles and overextend ourselves. We give up sleep to fit a few more things into the day. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, the daily grind takes its toll.

But that’s not the only cause of sleep debt. There can be medical conditions such as insomnia, sleep apnea or other similar health problems that might keep you awake at night. In addition to all this, drug side-effects, stress, erratic work timings, and substance abuse all lead to lack of sleep and eventually sleep debt.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation On The Body and Why You Should Take It Seriously

There are two categories of sleep debt: partial and total deprivation. While partial deprivation stems from the aggregated sleep debt over a week or more, total deprivation is when you simply go without sleeping for days at a time.

Partial sleep deprivation affects your brain functioning and can produce consequences such as irritability, memory lapses, severe drowsiness and reduction in cognitive efficiency. Over time, it affects your immune system, increases risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, obesity, etc… Sometimes the affects are  aches, tremors, and decreased reaction time.

Conversely, total sleep deprivation will produce severe hallucination and impaired moral judgment.  These are symptoms similar to those seen in another mental disorder called ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Diagnosis And Treatment Of  Sleep Debt

It is fairly simple for your doctor to diagnose sleep debt just by looking at your symptoms and rate of fatigue. In fact, medical professionals believe that many health complications arise from lack of sleep over a period of time. They therefore advise their patients to make it up through extra sleep.

In special cases, where a person is not able to sleep because of insomnia or other causes, doctors will prescribe sleep inducing medications. Similarly, doctors prescribe stress reducing drugs and serotonin enhancers to treat stress-induced sleep debt.

If you are having trouble sleeping on a consistent basis, see you doctor.

In Conclusion

Our bodies need sleep like they need air, water, and food.  Make sure you pay attention to your body and your sleep habits. Take the necessary steps to avoid sleep-debt.

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