Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
August 22, 2022
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on:

Did you know that lack of sleep is a public health epidemic? It’s true! Millions of people around the world are affected by sleep deficiency, and the numbers are only getting worse.

In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about sleep insufficiency.

We’ll talk about the different types of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders, the consequences, the symptoms, and what you can do to improve the quality of your sleep.

Let’s get started.

Why is sleep so important?

Most people know that sleep is important, but many don’t realize just how crucial it is for our overall health and well-being.

Studies show that during sleep, our bodies are able to rest and repair. This means that lack of sleep can have a significant impact on our physical health, as well as our mental and emotional health.

On the other hand, researchers reveal that getting enough sleep can have some pretty excellent benefits, such as:

  • reducing stress levels
  • improving memory and concentration
  • enhancing overall cognitive performance
  • boosting immune system function
  • regulating mood and emotions
  • promoting healthy skin

Sleep Anatomy

There are several structures of the brain that are involved in your sleep-wake cycle.

These include the following:

  • The hypothalamus
  • The thalamus
  • The pineal gland

The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating many of your body’s functions, including sleep.

The thalamus acts as a relay station for information going to and from the brain.

The pineal gland produces melatonin, which is a hormone that helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

Sleep Stages

There are two main types of sleep: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep, which is divided into three stages:

Stage 1: Non-REM sleep

This stage is the changeover from wakefulness to sleep. It is a very light sleep from which you can be easily awakened.

During this brief time, which usually lasts several minutes of light sleep, your heartbeat and breathing will slow down, your eyes might move around occasionally, and your muscles will relax with an occasional twitch.

Stage 2: Non-REM sleep

This stage is a period of light sleep before entering a deeper sleep.

This is the period when your heartbeat and breathing slow down, muscles relax completely, body temperature drops, and eye movements stop.

Your brain waves generally slow down during this stage, but there are brief periods of electrical activity. You usually spend more time in stage 2 sleep than in any other stage of sleep.

Stage 3: Non-REM sleep

This stage is a period of deep sleep, which is necessary for you to get refreshed and rejuvenated in the morning.

This stage usually occurs for longer periods during the first half of the night. Your heartbeat and breathing will slow down to their lowest levels, your muscles will be relaxed, and it may be difficult to wake you up. Brain waves become even slower during this stage.

REM Sleep

Approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep, you will start to experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Your eyes will move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids.

Your brain waves start to look more like what we see when someone is awake. You might breathe faster or irregularly, and your heart rate and blood pressure go up.

The majority of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep. However, certain events can also happen in non-REM sleep, and this is when muscle paralysis in your limbs stops you from physically enacting your dream.

It is also important to note that memory consolidation is more effective when both non-REM and REM sleep are involved.

How much sleep do you actually need?

There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on a variety of factors, such as age, lifestyle, and overall health.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep duration for different age groups:

  • Newborns (zero-18 months): 14-17 hours per day
  • Toddlers (13-18 months): 11-14 hours per day
  • School-aged children (ages six to 13): 9-11 hours per day
  • Teens (ages 14 to 17): 8-10 hours per day
  • Adults (ages 18 and up): 7-9 hours per day
  • Older adults (over 65 years old): 7-8 hours per day

It is important to note that these are only guidelines, and you should consult with your doctor if you feel that you need more or less sleep than what is recommended for your age group.

And that the amount of sleep does not automatically mean that you’re getting enough quality sleep that you need. A lack of deep, restorative sleep can still lead to many problems.

So, what exactly entails good sleep quality?

The National Sleep Foundation Organization informs that good sleep quality can be measured to determine whether or not your sleep is restful or restorative.

Here are four factors to measure sleep quality generally:

Sleep Latency

The amount of time it takes you to fall asleep is an important metric for the quality of your sleep. According to sleep experts, if you’re able to drift off within 30 minutes or less after going to bed, that’s a good sign.

Sleep Walking

This metric determines how often you awaken during the night. Because nighttime wakefulness can disrupt your sleep patterns and quality, waking up once or not at all suggests that your sleep is fine.

Wakefulness After Sleep

This metric is a measure of how long you spend awake once you’ve fallen asleep. This number should be low because if it’s not, that means your sleep was interrupted and was not restful.

The National Sleep Foundation states that people who sleep well wake up 20 minutes or less during the night.

Sleep Efficiency

This metric is determined by dividing the total amount of time you spend asleep (sleep duration) by the total amount of time you’re in bed.

For example, if you’re in bed for eight hours but only sleep for six and a half of those hours, your sleep efficiency would be 81 percent.

Anything below 85 percent is considered poor sleep efficiency.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, people who sleep well have a sleep efficiency of 90 percent or higher.

What causes lack of sleep?

There are a number of different factors that can contribute to insufficient sleep or sleep deprivation, including but not limited to:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain or illnesses
  • Too much caffeine consumption
  • Too much nicotine consumption
  • Medications

Some people may also have difficulty sleeping due to work schedules or caring for young children, or various lifestyle changes that could make their sleep deprivation worse.

Sleep Deprivation

The term “sleep deprivation” encompasses any state in which an individual doesn’t get adequate sleep, whether it’s voluntary or involuntary sleeplessness, as well as circadian rhythm sleep disorders.

There are two kinds of sleep deprivation:

Acute Sleep Deprivation

Acute sleep deprivation is when an individual doesn’t get enough sleep for a short period of time. It can be caused by work demands, stress, travel, or social obligations.

Chronic Sleep Deprivation

Chronic sleep deprivation is when an individual has difficulty sleeping on a regular basis and, as a result, doesn’t get the recommended amount of sleep they need.

Constant sleep deprivation can have many negative effects on an individual’s health, including but not limited to:

  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of focus and concentration.

It can also lead to accidents, as well as errors in judgment.

In some cases, sleep deprivation can even lead to death.

Sleep Disorders

There are a number of different sleeping disorders that can contribute to a lack of sleep or sleep deprivation, including but not limited to:

Insomnia

Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that makes it difficult for an individual to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can be caused by stress, anxiety, medications, and other underlying medical conditions.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, also known as obstructive sleep apnea, is a sleeping disorder that’s characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. It can occur due to a variety of factors, including but not limited to obesity, smoking, and family history.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is a sleeping disorder that’s characterized by an irresistible urge to move one’s legs. It can be caused by pregnancy, iron deficiency, and certain medications.

Circadian Rhythm Sleeping Disorder

Sleep and circadian disturbance is a condition that makes it difficult for an individual to sleep and wake at the same time every day. It can be caused by jet lag, work schedules, and shift work.

Parasomnias

Parasomnias are sleeping disorders that involve abnormal behaviors and experiences that occur during sleep. They can include but are not limited to sleepwalking, night terrors, and sleep paralysis.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

REM sleep behavior disorder is a sleeping disorder that’s characterized by acting out vivid dreams during REM sleep. It can be caused by various factors, including but not limited to Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and certain medications.

Symptoms of Sleep Deficiency

There are a number of different symptoms of sleep deficiency, including but not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Yawning
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Brain fog

Insufficient sleep can seriously impact an individual’s health and well-being. It’s essential to consult with a doctor if you think you may be suffering from chronic sleep deficiency or a sleep disorder.

There are many different treatment options available for sleep disorders, including but not limited to:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Stimulus control therapy
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Medications

If you think you may be suffering from a lack of sleep or sleep deprivation, it’s important to consult with a doctor.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Chronic lack of sleep can have significant adverse effects on specific areas of your health, such as:

Central Nervous System

Your central nervous system is vital to your body as it relays information. Although sleep is crucial for keeping it functioning properly, chronic lack of sleep can interfere with how your body processes and sends information.

When you sleep, your brain creates connections between nerve cells that help solidify new information. When you’re sleep-deprived, your brain can’t consolidate the information, negatively impacting your cognitive performance.

If you experience this, it may be more difficult for you to concentrate or learn new things. The signals from your body telling your brain what to do may also be delayed, which would decrease coordination and increase the chances of accidents.

Sleep deprivation has a detrimental impact on your mental and emotional states. You may become more impatient or prone to mood swings. It can also have an effect on how you make decisions and come up with new ideas.

If you don’t get enough sleep for too long, you may start hallucinating — seeing or hearing things that aren’t real. Sleep deprivation can also cause mania in people who have bipolar mood disorder.

Immune System

A lack of sleep, especially chronic sleep deficiency, can weaken your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off infections.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep deprivation has also been linked to an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

If you have a sleep deficiency, you may be more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold or the flu.

Respiratory System

Your respiratory system is responsible for moving air in and out of your lungs. A chronic lack of sleep can cause a decrease in the quality of your breathing and make it more difficult for your body to get the oxygen it needs.

This can lead to an increased risk of developing respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. It can also worsen the symptoms of asthma and other respiratory disorders.

Cardiovascular System

A chronic lack of sleep can have a negative impact on your cardiovascular system, making it more difficult for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body.

This can cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, which can put you at a greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other heart problems.

If you have a sleep disorder, you may be at an increased risk for developing irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), which can be fatal.

Digestive system

Your digestive system is responsible for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. A lack of sleep, especially constant sleep deprivation, can disrupt the normal functioning of your digestive system and make it more difficult for your body to absorb nutrients.

This can lead to an increase in appetite and weight gain, as well as gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn.

Endocrine system

Your endocrine system is responsible for producing hormones that regulate a variety of functions in your body, such as growth, metabolism, and reproduction.

A poor sleep hygiene can disrupt the normal production of hormones, which can lead to a variety of problems, such as:

  • Difficulty regulating blood sugar levels
  • Reduced growth hormone production in children and adolescents
  • Decreased fertility in men and women
  • Increased risk of developing type II diabetes

If you have a sleep disorder, you may be at an increased risk for developing irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), which can be fatal.

How to Get Enough Sleep

There are a number of different things you can do to get more sleep, including but not limited to:

  • Sticking to a regular sleep schedule
  • Avoiding caffeine and nicotine
  • Exercising regularly
  • Relaxing before bedtime
  • Creating a comfortable sleep environment
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet
  • Avoiding working or using electronic devices in bed
  • Taking a hot bath or shower before bedtime

If you have chronic pain or an illness, talk to your doctor about treatment options that do not compromise your quality sleep.

If you have a sleep disorder, talk to a professional about coping strategies that work for you.

Concluding Thoughts

Lack of sleep is a serious issue that can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health.

If you are struggling to get enough sleep, talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist to find out what treatment options are available to you.

Also, there are a number of different things you can do to improve your sleep quality, including sticking to a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and nicotine, and creating a comfortable sleep environment.

If you found this article helpful, feel free to share it with your friends and family, and make sure to check out the other articles we have on brain health.

And don’t forget to join the conversation in our online community!

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