Understand how serious a lack of sleep can be.
Chronic lack of sleep is a public health issue, and a growing problem. As the world gets faster, sleep often takes the backseat to productivity. The rise in technology use means bright lights frequently alter our natural circadian rhythms, which dictate when we get tired during a 24 hour period. The prevalence of travel across time zones means travelers’ sleep cycles can rapidly change with every flight.
Unfortunately, the costs of sleep deprivation are high. According to John Hopkins Medicine, drowsy driving causes 6,000 car accidents each year. Those who get insufficient sleep are at a higher risk for developing serious health issues. Poor sleep even impacts the economy. The good news is that most causes of sleep deprivation are treatable. In this article, we discuss how common regular lack of sleep is and how to get good sleep every night.
Columbia University defines sleep deprivation as simply any time you don’t get enough sleep; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds any time you don’t experience all of the sleep cycles or when you sleep at the wrong time (for example, midday instead of nighttime). Adults typically need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night.
While sleep deprivation is not a disease in itself, continued lack of sufficient sleep can pose a serious health risk. Not getting those 8 hours can put you at a higher risk for heart disease, dementia, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke.
You may also experience less severe, but equally frustrating, symptoms. These can include poor memory, fatigue, increased appetite, weight gain, reduced impulse control, a lowered immune system, and hallucinations.
So what causes sleep deprivation? There are common causes, such as stress, mental health issues, your occupation, or environmental changes (i.e. travel, a new baby, etc.). Then there are sleep disorders. The most well-known sleep disorder is insomnia, but others include sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome.
Aging can also cause sleep loss. Older people tend to have more medical conditions, such as chronic pain, that can keep them up at night. Some medications also make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Finally, lack of sleep can be a comorbid condition with other illnesses like depression, anxiety, and heart disease.
If you’re not getting enough rest, and you’re not sure why, you may need to see a sleep health specialist who can perform studies while you sleep. You may have an undiagnosed sleep disorder that requires sleep medicine or breathing assistance machines.
It’s pretty simple to tell if you’re not getting enough sleep—you’ll feel daytime sleepiness and may fall asleep in inappropriate places or situations. You may also experience microsleeps during the day, which Columbia University describes as “brief mental lapses” even though you are awake and conscious.
Short sleep duration is becoming more common, particularly because people are getting busier. With access to technology, it’s harder to “shut off” in the evening, which can lead to major sleep problems. The company Phillips surveyed 12 countries to gauge sleep deprivation around the world.
Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said they did not get enough sleep. That’s over half of the world’s population!
The CDC performed a study in 2014 that reported 35.2% of U.S. adults experience sleep deprivation. The percentage for men was 35.5 and 34.8 for women. Sleep researchers also believe that between 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder.
The Phillips company study asked people across 12 countries if they experience a sleep disorder. Many said they did, and we break down the numbers below.
Sleep habits change as we age. Children tend to sleep the most, while the elderly get less sleep. Still, people of all ages experience sleep deprivation. The CDC reports the following percentages for short sleep duration by age.
Reports of sleep deprivation may differ from the reality. For example, the CDC cites 26.3% of those over 65 years old experiencing short sleep duration, but Columbia University estimates that the number could be as high as 50%.
Young adults—those between ages 10 and 24—who experience sleep disturbances are more likely to struggle with sleep as adults, according to the NIH. 68.8% of high school students report high levels of sleep deprivation, which can seriously affect academic performance and contribute to health problems later in life.
The popular Sleep Cycle app collects data on sleep habits all over the world. They note that there doesn’t seem to be a sleep advantage for higher-income countries. Here is how a few countries fare when it comes to average total hours of sleep per night:
According to sleep research, some occupations put people at higher risk for sleep deprivation. A National Health Interview Survey by the CDC says the occupations with highest risk are:
Unfortunately, many of the occupations that cause poor sleep also require the most sleep. Take healthcare workers, for example. Emergency room doctors, nurses, and surgeons need to be alert and clear-minded while treating patients; however, hospital workers typically work in 12-hour shifts, often at night.
Every year, millions of dollars are lost because of problems resulting from poor sleep. The Rand Corporation estimates that the U.S. tops the list of losses by country at $411 billion per year, or over 2% of its GDP.
It’s abundantly clear that meeting your sleep needs is vital for your well-being. Good sleep may be achieved by treating an underlying medical condition or by simply developing good habits. Here are some tips to help you get the recommended amount of sleep.
Sleep debt is the result of not enough sleep over a period of time and is connected with numerous health complaints. Read on to learn more about how sleep debt works.