Sleep Tips

The Terrifying Truth About Sleep Deprivation

Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. Although Halloween is just a few weeks away, we’re not trying to scare anyone with this bold claim – the Centers for Disease Control said the same thing in the results of an April 2013  study.

The study goes on to say that even though Americans are aware of the mental and physical consequences of sleep deprivation, they’re doing little to change their behavior to combat these issues for themselves.

The Problems Caused by Sleep Deprivation

Almost 80 percent of Americans agree that a lack of sleep causes problems like difficulty concentrating and increased stress. But, they are often unaware how much sleep the body needs and what the definition of “sleep deprivation” really is. Many think that the detrimental effects of sleeplessness are caused by medical issues, not by simply not sleeping enough hours at night.

"It’s a huge problem," said Dr. M. Faisal Khan, neurologist at Methodist Hospital in Sugar Land and Memorial Hermann Sugar Land. "The most common reason for excessive daytime sleepiness is not sleep apnea, it’s not insomnia; it’s insufficient sleep."

Dr. Khan said there’s no doubt that lack of sleep affects our mood and overall performance, which can lead to lack of motivation, decreased attention span and increased anxiety. In turn, this can lead to workplace injuries and drowsy driving.

Here are some examples of comments made by sleep-deprived study participants:

  • "It’s like drunk driving."
  • "Hallucinations, madness, death."
  • "Makes a zombie out of you…"

Now Playing: “When Sleep Attacks!

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to more serious episodes of sleepiness, like "microsleep attacks." These are events in which a person still appears to be awake and behaves automatically, but without conscious awareness.

"People who are chronically sleep deprived may have microsleep attacks,” says Dr. Khan. "These are irresistible sleep attacks that are very dangerous in terms of people behind the wheel or who operate heavy machinery."

During a microsleep attack, you are basically resistant to staying awake. Dr. Khan describes these instances like a blackout, in that the person has no awareness of their surroundings. It can last anywhere from several seconds to a few minutes.

What’s the Difference Between Being Sleepy and Chronic Sleep Deprivation?

It’s important to discern the difference between acute and chronic sleep deprivation. Acute sleeplessness is often triggered by an event and is not long lasting. Chronic sleeplessness lasts for a duration of at least six months.

"By this time, people are showing severe signs of sleep deprivation," says Dr. Khan.

Those signs may manifest beyond performance capabilities. Studies show that lack of quality sleep also contributes to significant medical issues.

"It’s proven, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that chronic sleep deprivation is linked to high blood pressure, stroke, and hormone imbalance relating to weight gain," says Dr. Khan. "It’s also linked to a higher risk of insulin resistance."

Halloween is all about exploring the things that frighten us at night. But remember, making a habit of staying up too late or waking up too early can have seriously scary consequences. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep and avoid the terrifying effects of sleep deprivation.

Happy Halloween!

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