Sleep, like food and water, is a fundamental human need – but a full night’s rest can be hard to come by in today’s fast-paced, deadline-driven world.
Lack of proper sleep can critically harm your decision-making skills, putting you at greater risk of physical injury, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. In fact, lack of sleep is linked to preventable disasters, such as aviation and driving accidents, according to the NHLBI.
Chronically sleep-deprived people are less likely to be productive and face greater risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, and mental health issues.
“Sleep is vital to all aspects of our health: physical, mental, and emotional well-being,” says John Rodaitis, DO, of Absolute Primary Care-UPMC. “Good and healthy lifestyle changes can create a lasting impact on our sleep hygiene and overall well-being. Lifestyle changes such as routine bedtimes, rising at the same time in the morning, daily exercise, healthy dietary changes; and removing screens, TVs, computers, cell phones, can help us all get better sleep.”
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends adults sleep at least seven hours per night for good health, but a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found more than one-third of American adults do not sleep that much on a regular basis.
Here’s how to know if you’re sleep deprived and what you can do to address your symptoms.
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Am I Sleep Deprived? How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Sleep patterns will shift throughout your lifetime, with the amount of nightly rest you need varying from childhood to adulthood.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends children ages 6 to 12 receive at least nine hours of sleep nightly, whereas teens ages 13 to 18 should receive 8 to 10 hours. Adults 18 years and older need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, researchers say.
Although naps can boost short-term energy, they don’t deliver the health benefits of a full night’s rest. They also can affect the body’s sleep–wake rhythm and lead to circadian rhythm disorders.
Symptoms of sleep deprivation vary by age, but adults often experience memory loss, confusion, and trouble focusing. You may find yourself more irritable than usual, or easily frustrated. These symptoms, in the short term, can lead to impaired driving and slow response time. Long-term effects include high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease.
Types and Causes of Sleep Deprivation
Even if you think you’re getting a full night’s sleep, the quality of that sleep plays a critical role in regulating your body’s internal clock, known as its circadian rhythm.
If you wake up often during the night, rise hours early and can’t fall back asleep, or frequently toss and turn, you may suffer from a sleep disorder, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Conditions that may affect sleep patterns include narcolepsy, insomnia, night terrors, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, sleepwalking, and snoring.
Your body needs to cycle through both rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep and non-REM sleep to function properly, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Among the types of circadian rhythm sleep disorders, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, are:
- Delayed sleep phase disorder: When your standard sleep cycle is delayed two hours or more, causing you to wake later.
- Advanced sleep phase disorder: When your standard sleep cycle is moved up several hours, causing you to rise earlier.
- Jet lag disorder: When travel through time zones upsets the body’s standard sleep cycle.
- Shift work disorder: When a person’s work hours are scheduled during their standard sleep cycle.
- Irregular sleep-wake rhythm: When a person’s sleep-wake cycle is scattered and divided into a series of naps.
What Can I Do? When Should I See a Doctor?
A sleep diary can help you determine if you’re getting enough sleep. Good sleep hygiene habits, according to the CDC, include:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
- Creating a dark, relaxing, and temperature-controlled bedroom atmosphere by removing all electronics ahead of bedtime.
- Avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bed.
- Staying active during the day and getting proper exercise.
If these suggestions don’t work, and you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic sleep loss, it may be time to talk to your doctor. A medical professional may suggest anything from lifestyle changes to medication, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Doctors at the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center can help identify the cause of your sleep problems, and offer a variety of treatment plans. Contact the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center to learn more or make an appointment.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
About Sleep Medicine
Millions of Americans struggle with disorders that prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep. Better sleep can lead to better overall health, and the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center is here to help. We diagnose and treat numerous sleep conditions or disorders. We also provide help to people suffering from lack of sleep because of other health problems. We recognize a lack of sleep can cause problems during other times of the day, including alertness, memory, and health immunity. We hold sleep studies and lead clinical trials, all in the name of helping you sleep. Find a provider near you.