The effects of sleep deprivation and chronic lack of sleep.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult sleeps less than 7 hours per night. In today's fast-paced society, 6 or 7 hours of sleep may sound pretty good. In reality, it's a recipe for chronic sleep deprivation.
While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Children and teens need even more (see box below). And despite the notion that sleep needs decrease with age, older people still need at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep. Since older adults often have trouble sleeping this long at night, daytime naps can help fill in the gap.
Adapted from Your Guide to Healthy Sleep (PDF) - The National Institutes of Health
Getting just 1 hour less sleep per night won’t effect your daytime functioning.
You may not be noticeably sleepy during the day. But even slightly less sleep can affect your ability to think properly and respond quickly, and compromise your cardiovascular health, energy balance, and ability to fight infections.
Your body adjusts quickly to different sleep schedules.
Most people can reset their biological clock, but only by appropriately timed cues—and even then, by 1–2 hours per day at best. Consequently, it can take more than a week to adjust after traveling across several time zones or switching to the night shift.
Extra sleep at night can cure you of problems with excessive daytime fatigue.
Not only is the quantity of sleep important but also the quality of sleep. Some people sleep 8 or 9 hours a night but don’t feel well rested when they wake up because the quality of their sleep is poor.
You can make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping more on the weekends.
Although this sleeping pattern will help relieve part of a sleep debt, it will not completely make up for the lack of sleep. Furthermore, sleeping later on the weekends can affect your biological clock so that it is much harder to go to sleep at the right time on Sunday nights and get up early on Monday mornings.
Try these suggestions if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep:
Information from MayoClinic.com
Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day, even on the weekends. Sticking to a schedule helps reinforce your body's sleep-wake cycle and can help you fall asleep more easily at night.
Don't eat or drink large amounts before bedtime. Eat a light dinner at least two hours before sleeping. If you're prone to heartburn, avoid spicy or fatty foods, which can make your heartburn flare and prevent a restful sleep. Also, limit how much you drink before bed. Too much liquid can cause you to wake up repeatedly during the night for trips to the toilet.
Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol in the evening. These are stimulants that can keep you awake. Smokers often experience withdrawal symptoms at night, and smoking in bed is dangerous. Avoid caffeine for eight hours before your planned bedtime. Your body doesn't store caffeine, but it takes many hours to eliminate the stimulant and its effects. And although often believed to be a sedative, alcohol actually disrupts sleep.
Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, can help you fall asleep faster and make your sleep more restful. However, for some people, exercising right before bed may make getting to sleep more difficult.
Make your bedroom cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. Adjust the lighting, temperature, humidity and noise level to your preferences. Use blackout curtains, eye covers, earplugs, extra blankets, a fan or white-noise generator, a humidifier or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
Sleep primarily at night. Daytime naps may steal hours from nighttime slumber. Limit daytime sleep to about a half-hour and make it during mid-afternoon. If you work nights, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight, which adjusts the body's internal clock, doesn't interrupt your sleep. If you have a day job and sleep at night, but still have trouble waking up, leave the window coverings open and let the sunlight help awaken you.
Choose a comfortable mattress and pillow. Features of a good bed are subjective and differ for each person. But make sure you have a bed that's comfortable. If you share your bed, make sure there's enough room for two. Children and pets are often disruptive, so you may need to set limits on how often they sleep in bed with you.
Start a relaxing bedtime routine. Do the same things each night to tell your body it's time to wind down. This may include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. Relaxing activities done with lowered lights can help ease the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.
Go to bed when you're tired and turn out the lights. If you don't fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, get up and do something else. Go back to bed when you're tired. Don't agonize over falling asleep. The stress will only prevent sleep.
Use sleeping pills only as a last resort. Check with your doctor before taking any sleep medications. He or she can make sure the pills won't interact with your other medications or with an existing medical condition. Your doctor can also help you determine the best dosage. If you do take a sleep medication, reduce the dosage gradually when you want to quit, and never mix alcohol and sleeping pills. If you feel sleepy or dizzy during the day, talk to your doctor about changing the dosage or discontinuing the pills.
Nearly everyone has occasional sleepless nights. But if you have trouble sleeping on a regular or frequent basis, see your doctor. You could have a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome. Identifying and treating the cause of your sleep disturbance can help get you back on the road to a good night's sleep.
A lack of sleep can have a significant impact on how well we absorb new information. There are three main processes of learning that are affected by sleep:
Inadequate sleep makes it more difficult to concentrate on new information being presented to us, as well as remembering recently acquired information. But the most affected part of the processes is memory consolidation. The 24 hours after learning something is the critical period for consolidation, so pulling an all-nighter right before an exam will make it more difficult to recall the information you learned. With everything going on in college, it’s difficult to prioritize sleep over athletics, socializing, and studying. However with a balanced sleep schedule, you will feel energized to handle anything life throws at you.