Sleep deprivation affects millions of people. Whether it’s over a few days, or a long period of time, the consequences of sleep deprivation can be devastating…like a tragic auto accident or fatal heart condition. And it’s controllable. We just need to choose to take control.
The first step of taking control is to determine if you are sleep deprived, and to begin recovering from it.
Recognize the Signs of Sleep Deprivation
It’s frustrating that symptoms can be shared for more than one condition, making it difficult to diagnose sometimes. But take a look at some common signs of sleep deprivation. You may be sleep deprived if you regularly:
- Need an alarm clock to wake up on time
- Snooze your alarm clock
- Struggle to get up in the morning
- Feel sluggish in the afternoon
- Get sleepy in meetings or warm rooms
- Get sleepy after heavy meals
- Get sleepy while driving
- Nap to get through your day
- Doze off while watching TV or relaxing in the evening
- Fall asleep within minutes of getting into bed
- Want to sleep in on weekends
“In the last few years, we’ve seen the economy take a nose dive, and more people are affected by that,” said Dr. Raj Kakar, a medical director at the Dallas Center for Sleep Disorders, in CNN’s Why We’re Sleeping Less. ”This has been more insidious over two decades,” Kakar said. “With the advent of the Internet, cell phone, Blackberries, we’re seeing our society is increasingly 24-7. People are able to be active at any time from anywhere, and it causes people to be more active around the clock. This increased activity is essentially giving sleep less importance.”
Maybe you suffer from sleep deprivation but manage to get by. It becomes a quality of life question then. Do you want to get by? Or would you like to live your day to the fullest, experiencing optimal enjoyment because you feel healthy, energized and productive (rather than sluggish, sickly and average)?
Now, if you have chronic tingling or cramping in your legs, difficulty breathing during sleep or other issues that continue to affect your sleep quality, you should consult your doctor immediately to determine the cause.
Recover from Sleep Deprivation
However, if you simply feel like you might be suffering from sleep deprivation and want to enjoy life more, here are a couple of ways you can recover from sleep shortage.
- Make up your sleep shortage in 1 or 2 hour installments, over the course of a few nights, rather than trying to make it up in 1 night or day.
- For long-term sleep deprivation, when your schedule allows, take a 2-week sleep vacation. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up without an alarm clock. Eventually, you will catch up on sleep and determine how much sleep your body requires naturally.
Of course you’re busy, and making up sleep shortage may seem difficult. But if you desire quality of life, you need to make sleep a priority. Consider it the most natural of all medications or vitamins…to protect you against disease and keep you as healthy as possible.
Devil’s advocate may say, “so how can you really enjoy life if you’re sleeping instead of getting other things done?” But consider that once you recover from sleep deprivation, you can learn to manage sleep better, avoid shortage and still tackle your other priorities.
Avoid Future Sleep Deprivation
Just like breaking any other bad habit, it takes effort to break bad sleep habits. But envision your spunkier, happier self once you improve your sleep habits. Just follow these steps to retrain yourself:
- Take a sleep vacation, or keep a sleep diary, to determine your body’s optimal amount of sleep. If a sleep vacation is not feasible, begin a sleep diary. You will record the time you go to bed and wake up each day, total hours of sleep you got and how you felt the next day. You will begin to see a pattern of when and how you feel good, and will be able to reference the diary to see how many hours of sleep you need. You can also use the sleep diary to keep track of things you eat or drink (like caffeine or sugar), and when you exercise, to help pinpoint whether those factors affect your quality of sleep.
- Adjust your schedule to get your optimal amount of sleep, which will likely range from 7.5 to 9 hours for adults. Go to bed earlier or get up later if that’s what it takes to get your required amount of sleep.
- Stick to your schedule. Plan your bedtime and wake-up times to work with your schedule on a long-term basis. This may be difficult and you will likely be resistant because you feel stressed to get so many other things done. But ultimately, you will function more efficiently and get the same amount of, or even more, things done with your newfound energy.
- Make sleep a priority. For every time it’s your bedtime, and you think “I just need to clean up real quick, or get a few more emails sent out, choose your bed! You can conquer the other tasks tomorrow, in less time because you will be rested and energized! It’s against our busy, chaotic tendencies these days, but try it for a few weeks.
- Make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and bedding.
- Follow other tips (like diet, exercise, ambiance) to get better sleep and to avoid sleep deprivation.
Admittedly, adjusting your sleep habits will take some work, initially. But just as lack of sleep may have become your lifestyle over the past few years, adequate sleep can become your lifestyle again. You can go through your day in a happier mood, perform at optimal levels and ward off poor health. So what are you waiting for? Get to bed, sleepyhead!