What are sleep deprivation and sleep deficiency?

Sleep deprivation is a state of not getting enough sleep. It may be acute in which case the usual total amount of sleep time is reduced over a period of 1 – 2 days. All of us have experienced acute sleep deprivation at one point in our lives. Chronic sleep deprivation happens when the total sleep time is reduced over a long period to the extent that it becomes a routine occurrence.

Sleep deficiency is more concerned with the quality and depth/intensity of sleep that an individual gets. Sleep deficiency is a state in which an individual is not getting enough sleep and has one or more of the following conditions:

i. Sleeping at the wrong time of the day or out of alignment with your internal body clock,

ii. Not getting all the different types of sleep needed by the body or

iii. Suffering from a sleep disorder that prevents enough sleep or causes poor quality, interrupted sleep.

Why is sleep important for health and well-being?

  1. Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with lower immune functioning and increased susceptibility to colds and flu.2. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to contribute to weight gain. This is associated with increased levels of cortisol hormone

  2. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to contribute to weight gain. This is associated with increased levels of cortisol hormone which stimulates the lipoprotein lipase enzyme to increase deposition of fat plus reduced levels of leptin which is a chemical that makes you feel full and increased levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin.3. Lack of enough sleep over short and long periods of time leads to decreased cognitive (mental) functioning especially for tasks that

  3. Lack of enough sleep over short and long periods of time leads to decreased cognitive (mental) functioning especially for tasks that require concentration and creativity such as driving, operating machinery, reasoning and innovation.4. Lack of sleep can cause irritability,

  4. Lack of sleep can cause irritability, depression and anxiety thus affecting mental wellbeing and impairing relationships at work and at home.5. People who sleep fewer hours than are recommended for their age have a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

  5. People who sleep fewer hours than are recommended for their age have a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.6. Sleep deprivation affects

  6. Sleep deprivation affects production of reproductive hormones and can lead to problems with fertility.

How do I know if I am getting the right quantity of sleep?

The combination of advances in technology: email, TV, mobile phones and social media with the stress of 8+ hour jobs has greatly increased the demands on waking hours. People are increasingly trading sleep for increased work input and recreation. Children have not been spared either. In most African cities and urban centers; long commutes to school and heavy school assignments creep into recommended sleep time on a daily basis.

Sleep experts recommend a minimum of 7 – 8 hours of sleep on average per day. The minimum amount of sleep needed varies by age, gender and other factors. Newborns (0 – 28 days) need at least 14 hours of sleep daily, children aged 6 – 13 years should sleep for at least 9 – 11 hours daily. Adolescents need up to 10 hours due to their growing brains and adults need at least 8 hours of sleep daily. In addition, pregnancy, old age and illness are associated with increased sleep requirements.

If you wake up tired and feel like you need a nap to get through the day; it’s time to double check your sleep habits. If in addition you are moody and irritable, are suffering unexplained weight gain, constantly suffer from infections, have unexplained memory problems and drowsiness while driving or operating machinery your problem could be chronic sleep deprivation.

Tips for addressing sleep deprivation

Practicing good sleep habits and getting more sleep to compensate for the sleep debt is key to addressing sleep deprivation;

i. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly

ii. Go to bed and get up at the same time daily

iii. Avoid nicotine, alcohol and large meals before bedtime

iv. Don’t rely on caffeine or energy drinks as a short-term pick-me-up. They may boost your energy and concentration temporarily, but can disrupt your
sleep patterns even further in the long term

v. Create a good sleep environment: a cool, quiet environment is preferable for most people.

vi. Exercise daily but not within 2 hours of bedtime.

How do I know if I am not getting the right quality of sleep?

The depth and intensity of sleep can change even without a change in the duration of sleep affecting the quality of your sleep. Waking frequently, or fragmented sleep, interrupts the sleep cycle and can contribute to an inability to achieve periods of deep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the stages associated with restful and restorative sleep. Several factors may play a role in shortening deep sleep cycles. These include:

i. Normal aging,

ii. Medications,

iii. Medical conditions that can cause pain or discomfort during the night e.g. arthritis,

iv. Sleep disorders including insomnia (trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep or sleep fragmentation), obstructive sleep apnea (a condition in which an individual periodically stops breathing while asleep) and restless leg syndrome (strong urge to move the legs),

v. Nightmares and psychiatric disorders including anxiety and depression.

Addressing sleep deficiency

In addition to adaptation of appropriate sleeping habits, seek medical advice to diagnose what is affecting your quality of sleep. Assumptions could lead to the wrong methods and stressful failures to cure the underlying cause. Some people find it helpful to keep a sleep diary to analyze how much sleep you are getting on a nightly basis. Once you have the right diagnosis, the next step is finding what solution works for you with support from friends, family and health workers.