12 Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation and How to Cope 

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12 Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation and How to Cope | Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to many health-related side effects that go above and beyond exhaustion, fatigue, and lethargy. This post explains the signs and symptoms of sleep deprivation and the impact lack of sleep can have on your physical and mental health. We've also included 9 tips to help you learn how to cope with sleep deprivation, from preventing insomnia to giving yourself a natural energy boost when you need it most!

Your mind and body certainly alarm you when you need more sleep. You might feel sluggish, unproductive, and cranky. Tasks feel impossible to complete, cravings become harder to ignore, and your brain feels like it’s crashing. These characteristics are a few of the many side effects of sleep deprivation, a condition that occurs when you don’t receive enough sleep. It’s also an epidemic that threatens the health and quality of life of around 45% of the global population. Here, we’ll discuss the causes, signs, and what you need to know to ensure you feel your best.

What Is ‘Sleep Deprivation’?

Everyone has different needs when it comes to sleep. Some lucky ones only need 6 hours, whereas some need a full ten to feel like themselves. But for many adults, 7 to 9 hours is necessary to avoid sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation occurs when you receive less sleep than necessary or even experience a lack of sleep. Research shows receiving inadequate sleep is more than an inconvenience or stressor – it’s a red flag that can lead to a host of concerns, including high blood pressure, forgetfulness, heart disease, and diabetes.

3 Causes of Sleep Deprivation

In a society where we face daily pressure to manage personal and professional responsibilities, sleep deprivation may feel like a weekly occurrence. But besides our hectic lives, other reasons may cause it; 

  1. Sleep disorders. Several sleep disorders may make you more vulnerable, including insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy.
  2. Lifestyle. Psychological and health factors such as stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, diet, exercise, and overworking can all impact how many restful hours you receive a night.
  3. Aging. As you age, you are more likely to experience sleep difficulties. For example, people older than 65 experience sleep deprivation due to age-related health complications, decreased melatonin production, or medications.

12 Signs of Sleep Deprivation

Running low on rest and depriving yourself of much-needed sleep can put your mental and physical health at risk resulting in:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Mood changes
  3. Inability to focus
  4. Increased appetite 
  5. Impaired memory
  6. Increased weight gain
  7. Poor motor skills
  8. Impaired decision making
  9. More impulsive behavior
  10. Comprised immune system
  11. Blurred vision
  12. Weakened physical strength

While our lifestyle and other factors may make it difficult to receive a full 7 to 9 hours every night, there are a few ways you can experience more ZZ’s than sleepless nights.

9 Ways to Cope with Sleep Deprivation

1. Take a nap

It seems like a no-brainer, but taking a nap can help you combat the side effects of sleep deprivation. When possible, limit your screen time, close your curtains, and rest for a short cat nap, no more than 30 minutes, to not throw off your sleep schedule for the evening.

2. Jump in the shower

A refreshing dip in cold water can shock your nervous system causing you to feel more energized, even if you’re dragging through the day. The change in temperature increases your adrenaline and may work faster than a typical cup of coffee. It may not be the most pleasant way to wake up. But if you have an approaching deadline or a busy day ahead, fight the urge to ignore the cold.

3. Limit sugar

When you’re sleep-deprived, it’s common to have a day that feels off and out of sorts. You may notice your cravings have a mind of their own, and sugar seems like a great candidate to reverse the fatigue. But once you give in, you become more vulnerable to a sugar crash after the temporary surge of energy it provides wears off. This can also lead to weight gain. Instead, fuel your body with healthy fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, or foods that will boost your serotonin and energy naturally. 

4. Fresh air

It’s not surprising that natural light affects our mental health and sleep. As children, we were often told to play outside not only to release our energy, but to also receive a dose of vitamin D. This sunshine vitamin boosts your mood, regulates your circadian rhythm, and even triggers your brain to wake up – a triple powerhouse to cope with the side effects of sleep deprivation.

5. Manage your caffeine levels

If you’re dependent on your cups of coffee throughout the day to maintain your energy, you may be more vulnerable to poor sleep. Indeed, too much caffeine can provide the reverse effect – it can make you more jittery and lead to difficulty sleeping. Rather than grabbing your go-to Starbucks order, limit your coffee intake past noon to give your nervous system a break.

6. Stay active

Hitting the gym may be the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling exhausted, but it can actually give you a jolt of energy. Even if you can only muster a walk or quick yoga session, exercising increases your core metabolic rate, keeping you alert for a large portion of the day. But remember not to exercise at least three hours before bedtime.

7. Limit your stress

One of the best ways to reduce the side effects of sleep deprivation, such as the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, is by managing your stress levels. For example, meditation, mindfulness, and breathing techniques can all aid in the behind-the-scenes stressors causing your insomnia or anxiety.

8. Manage projects

If your sleep debt is worsening, try to put off making any significant decisions in your personal or professional life. A common side effect of sleep deprivation is impaired cognitive functioning, including poor logical reasoning and problem-solving skills. Wherever possible, refine your priority list and complete any low-priority tasks tomorrow.

9. Create a calming night routine

Another way to cope with insufficient sleep is to create a calming night routine. With work from home positions becoming the new norm, it might be tempting to spend the day in bed working. But it can be difficult for your mind to differentiate between your place of work and your place of sleep. Instead, separate the two and focus on creating a sleep sanctuary that primes your mind for deep sleep. Start by removing any technological distractions, setting a consistent bedtime, and completing a relaxation technique like progressive muscle relaxation or a guided mediation.

Overall, the side effects of sleep deprivation are alarming and include the risk of heart disease and diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain, low sex drive, impaired cognitive functioning, weakened immunity, accidents, heightened stress, and mood changes. To avoid these concerns, address the underlying causes and use any of the ways mentioned in this article to cope. By making better choices and changing your daily routine, you can repair your sleep debt and get on track toward a healthier sleep schedule.

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