Sleep Debt (Sleep deprivation) – What Is It, Causes, Diagnosis And Treatment.

Most of us try to sleep as little as possible. After all why waste time sleeping when there is so much to do and experience in the world? However, just as with exercising and nutrition, sleep too is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and when you begin to ignore it, a ‘sleep debt’ gets created which leads to further health problems.

What Is Sleep Debt?

Based on their age, each person is supposed to get 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, you might not be able to sleep for that much period of time every day. So, a sleep debt is created as a result. Loosely put, this is the difference between the average 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. Sleep debt is affected by other factors which include sleep cycle, stages of sleep.

Sleep – Relationship Between Sleep Cycle And Sleep Deficit

For many, 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. Therefore, getting a good sleep is not just about the hours of sleep but about the quality of it all.

When you feel like you are sleep deprived in spite of sleeping well every night, it could be because the REM and deep sleep periods are not being fulfilled properly. Then there is the sleep-wake cycle (otherwise referred to as the circadian rhythm or biological clock). 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 dept.

Cause Of Sleep Debt

Mostly, busy lifestyles tend to produce sleep debt in a person. However, there can be medical conditions such as insomnia, sleep apnea and 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 can also cause sleep debt in a person.

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

Sleep deprivation can be divided into two categories i.e. 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 together.

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 diseases, type II diabetes, obesity, etc. Sometimes, the effects are also seen in the form of aches, tremors and decreased reaction time.

Conversely, total sleep deprivation will produce severe hallucination, impaired moral judgment and 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 a many health complications arise from lack of sleep over a period of time and therefore advise their patients to make it up through extra sleep.

In special cases, where a person is not able sleep owing to insomnia or other causes, doctors will prescribe sleep inducing medications. Similarly, sleep debt due to stress is treated with stress reducing drugs and serotonin enhancers.

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