10 Major Signs of Sleep Deprivation (And How To Fix It)

Everyone has heard the gospel of getting six to eight hours of sleep. Unfortunately, sometimes the demands of life overwhelm the demands of good advice and good-natured health practitioners. A work deadline, a feverish toddler, or a newly-developed obsession with an addictive computer game has kept you awake for the larger chunk of those “six to eight” hours.

For many people in America, these interruptions are part of daily life. There simply are not enough hours in the day for the 68% of Americans who sleep less than 8 hours on weekdays. Insufficient sleep can contribute to a number of long term adverse effects, as the Naval Health Research Center outlines:

  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Prematurely aging skin
  • Increased susceptibility to cardiovascular disease
  • Weakened immune system

In 2015, a group at the University of Pittsburgh showed that there is a link between a disruption in your sleep cycle and known metabolic risk factors for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Accidents related to sleep deprivation are common, and have a fatality rate and injury severity level similar to alcohol-related crashes. In other words: sleep deprivation is a serious health risk.

Before getting into a problematic situation, it’s important to recognize when you’re losing too much sleep. This article will outline the major signs of sleep deprivation that you need to look out for and address before the night is out.

The 10 Major Signs of Sleep Deprivation

  1. Sleepiness: No surprises here. If you are getting enough quality sleep, you should feel calm and rested. The most important sign that you are not getting enough sleep is that you are feeling sleepy. This might express itself in waves of fatigue throughout the day, or a consistent drowsiness that affects all of your activities. It may also be that you find yourself nodding off during meetings or while riding on the bus. This is called micro sleep, which is when your brain unilaterally decides to put you to sleep.
  2. Hunger: Sleep deprivation can cause the body to release the hormone ghrelin, the hunger hormone.  Too much of the hormone causes you to crave fatty and sugary foods. Adversely, lack of sleep causes your body to release less leptin, which causes feelings of satiety. This causes your body to not properly interpret when you’ve eaten enough.  As a result, you may be craving and eating more food than usual. If you find that your portion sizes or meal frequency are higher than usual, it might be a result of sleep deprivation.
  3. Weight gain: Closely associated with increased hunger is increased weight gain. No mystery there. But if you haven’t been eating much more than usual, but still find that you are gaining weight, it may be due to sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep can directly impact your metabolism, slowing it down. A slower metabolism means it takes your body more time to burn the calories you take in. Research has shown that in the short and long terms, sleep deprivation causes weight gain and obesity.
  4. Inhibited Cognition: When you’re sleep deprived, your ability to concentrate, pay attention to detail and remember things clearly decreases. Sleep deprivation causes your body to release more cortisol, which can cause the hippocampus to shrink, impairing your memory and spatial navigation. The hippocampus is extremely susceptible to cortisol, making it more likely to cause issues for the state of your memory. Tasks which require sustained attention, such as repetitive tasks at work, show a marked decrease as sleep loss increases. If you find it hard to remember names, frequently forget about appointments you’ve made, or have a hard time focusing at work or school, chances are good that you are suffering from sleep deprivation.
  5. Mood swings: When a baby gets fussy, it often means it’s time for a nap. Adults are no different. A tired person is more irritable, brooding, and short-tempered. This may cause you to act more impulsively, taking on more risk than usual. Your ability to handle stress decreases, which can cause a whole host of issues, including digestive issues and a higher susceptibility to colds and fevers. Furthermore, since stress decreases your cognitive ability, you may find yourself reacting towards situations and people irrationally.
  6. Physical appearance: Sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on your overall appearance, and over an extended period of time, making you look older and generally unwell, causing breakouts, fine lines, bags, and other issues. The fact that sleep deprivation increases your chances of illness doesn’t help the cause. Sleep is when the body repairs itself, including fighting inflammation and repairing cells (including skin cells). If you find that the twinkle in your eye has dimmed, it’s time to consider keeping them shut for the next 8 hours.
  7. Psychiatric issues: Prolonged sleep deprivation may lead to serious psychiatric issues, including disorientation and hallucinations.  Disorientation is when a person loses track of time and space, not terribly different from dementia. Hallucinations are another sign of sleep deprivation. These are when your addled mind projects sensations (from voices to people or things) that aren’t real. This is a sign of serious sleep deprivation, where your mind is pushed to the very limits of its ability to function.
  8. Impaired motor skills: Being clumsy and tripping might make you feel like a klutz occasionally, but if its happening a few times a day, it may be due to a lack of sleep impacting your neurological functions. The lowered concentration and decreased reaction times make it difficult for your brain to be aware of your body’s location in any given space and the miscalculations present themselves as decreased motor skills. This can make you more prone to accidents such as dropping items and tripping, or something more severe, like falling down a flight of stairs. Sleep deprivation effects on motor skills and driving skills are equivalent to those generated by moderate alcohol consumption.
  9. Disrupted sleep cycle: Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock running in the background of your brain and controls the cycles of alertness and sleepiness in your body at regular intervals. Within the sleep portion of the circadian rhythm cycle exists another type of cycle called the ‘ultradian rhythm’. Sleeping consists of several repetitive cycles or stages of approximately 90 minutes each, when the sleep shifts between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep. In REM sleep, a person is in a deep sleep and dreams, whereas is non-REM sleep, a person is in a lighter sleep and more prone to waking up. Each sleep stage in a particular sleep cycle fulfills a physiological and neurological function. Sleep deprivation disrupts the natural flow of the sleep cycle, which will primarily serve to exacerbate your sleeping issues. When your cycle is disrupted, you may find it very difficult to fall asleep at a normal time, and find yourself waking up at abnormal hours.
9 Major Signs of Sleep Deprivation (And How To Fix It) 2

How to Address Sleep Deprivation

The two main causes of sleep deprivation are stress and an inability to sleep properly. The first step to addressing sleep deprivation is setting limits on the demands on your time if at all possible. Cut back on work and family, hire help or recruit friends and family. Making time for sleep is the most important part of getting enough sleep to begin with.

If you’re looking to improve your sleep cycle, Spire blog has several excellent posts outlining tactics and techniques to help you sleep longer and better, including:

In terms of addressing stress, Spire is all about decreasing the stress in your life. Take a look at these great posts:

Going into bed feeling centered and calm is much more conducive to sleeping well than going to bed stressed and distracted. Using Spire can help you achieve this positive state of mind, and ensure that you are going to bed with a very sleep-friendly attitude. Once you implement these suggests, we are sure that you’ll be able to fix your sleep deprivation and feeling energetic, healthy and rested once again.

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Science & Tech, Sleep, Spire

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