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What are the effects of sleep deprivation on your health?

February 27, 2022 • read

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What are the effects of sleep deprivation on your health?

If you feel like your sleep just isn’t cutting it these days, you’re not alone. Millions of Canadians wrestle with falling and staying asleep, and all that sleep deprivation has real consequences. The financial estimates alone add up to more than 20 billion dollars a year in health costs and lost productivity.

Sleep deprivation doesn’t just affect your work though. It can interfere with your home life and your physical and mental health. Here’s how to spot the symptoms of sleep deprivation, and how to get yourself sleeping better at night, naturally.

What does sleep deprivation feel like?

It almost feels like a badge of honour to be too busy for a full seven hours of shut-eye in this day and age. And it’s all too easy to brush off your tiredness and add another cup of coffee to your routine.

Sleep deprivation, however, shouldn’t be taken lightly. Lack of sleep doesn’t just make you tired and potentially more irritable. It can also affect your cognitive abilities, which is likely why you feel fuzzy-headed and maybe even a bit hungover after a bad night’s rest.

Short-term effects of sleep deprivation

One of the most serious effects of short-term lack of sleep is that it can result in microsleeps. Microsleeps are very short periods of sleep, lasting less than 15 seconds. While you’re not likely to notice them in your day-to-day life, they can be fatal in the wrong setting.

Driving or operating machinery, for example, becomes much more dangerous if you’re experiencing sleep deprivation. In those settings, nodding off for even a couple of seconds can be catastrophic. Other symptoms of short-term sleep deprivation include:

  • Poor decision making
  • Reduced alertness
  • Slower reaction time
  • Mood changes, including increased irritability and difficulty concentrating
  • Memory challenges
  • Lower pain threshold

How long does it take to bounce back from one bad night of sleep?

You need seven hours of sleep a night at minimum, but data shows that more than a quarter of adult Canadians report less than that. While a night or two of staying up late will likely affect your performance the next day, it probably won’t have long-term consequences. What may shock you, however, is how long it takes to recover from that one night.

Data from one study shows that even after two full nights of sleep in a row — or a grand total of 20 hours of time in bed — subjects’ memory capacity still hadn’t bounced back to its pre-sleep deprivation levels.

In other words, two weekend sleep-ins won’t fully restore the harm brought on by a work week’s worth of late nights and early mornings. Even worse, sleep deprivation is cumulative. All those nights of six hours of sleep add up to sizable sleep debt, one that can have long-term consequences.

What are the long-term effects of lack of sleep?

Prolonged sleep deprivation causes more than irritability and a drop in productivity. Over time, it can have serious consequences for your health. Long-term effects of lack of sleep can include:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Increased risk of diabetes — sleep deprivation affects your body’s ability to regulate your blood sugar
  • Obesity — the less you sleep, the more time you have to eat, and the less likely you are to expend your energy. This can encourage obesity which further contributes to difficulties regulating your blood sugar.
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Lowered immune system functioning
  • Mental health issues
  • Increased risk of falls and accidents

What is “revenge bedtime procrastination” and why should I care?

Revenge bedtime procrastination is a new term for the nightly debate raging in every adult’s home. Should you go to sleep at a reasonable hour, or try to cram in that personal time you didn’t have time for during your day?

It’s hard not to push back on the seemingly unending demands of your day. But making time for the things you want to do shouldn’t come out of your nightly sleep. You’re biologically programmed to need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Since even one bad night of sleep has negative effects, binge-watching old episodes of Friends until one in the morning just isn’t worth messing up a regular sleep pattern.

Instead, set aside time for yourself each day. Give yourself the gift of a good night’s sleep and chances are you’ll have the brainpower to use your time more efficiently anyway — hopefully giving yourself enough time to accomplish both your to-do list and your want-to-do list.

How do I get my sleep schedule back to normal?

If you’re grappling with falling and staying asleep, your sleep hygiene might be to blame. Sleep hygiene isn’t about how clean your sheets are, it has to do with the habits and behaviours you put in place around your sleep. If you’ve been giving in to revenge bedtime procrastination and your schedule is way out of whack, don’t despair. Maple’s sleep therapist Aaron Arkin shares sleep hygiene tips to get you back on track:

1. Respect the function of your bed

Arkin is a stickler for this one and for good reason. Sleep hygiene is crucial for a good night’s sleep, and the pinnacle of it all is your bed. That means that other than getting busy and getting some shut-eye, there’s nothing else you should be doing in your bed.

By following this rule, getting into bed cues your body that it’s time to sleep. So avoid any extra sleep problems and save the snacking, Slacking, and doomscrolling for basically anywhere else in your home.

2. Make pro-sleep lifestyle adjustments

No one’s suggesting you reconfigure your life around sleeping, but consider small practical changes. The average half-life of caffeine is five hours, which means that your two o’clock coffee is only half gone from your system by 7pm. Try moving your afternoon pick-me-up coffee back earlier in the day, and limit soda and chocolate after that time as well.

Aim to incorporate exercise into your daily routine too — not only is it good for your heart, but it’s also the best way to help yourself to a better night’s sleep. Bonus points if you can take it outside since getting enough sunlight is crucial for regulating your internal clock.

3. Pay attention to your sleep environment

Have you ever fallen asleep on the beach or out in the sun? Besides the risk of waking up with a sunburn, you’re also likely to feel groggy and decidedly unrested. Dehydration likely has something to do with it, but so does the heat. Nocturnal lowering of your body temperature is associated with the production of melatonin, and it’s one of your body’s cues that it’s time to sleep, known as thermoregulation.

Keeping your bedroom quiet, cool, and clean is key to a good night’s sleep — and yet another reason why you shouldn’t eat in bed. So grab some blackout blinds, wash your sheets, and pick up a fan or a white noise machine to mask any noisy neighbours.

4. Have a soothing pre-bedtime routine

If you’ve ever sleep-trained a baby, you’ll know how important this is. A bedtime routine cues your brain into winding down, and it’s important to make it as calming as possible. Some find a warm bath helpful — as your body cools, it mimics the thermoregulation process. If you’re not a bath person though, sticking to the same actions in the same order should be enough. Wash your face, brush your teeth, and change into jammies.

You may also want to include reading a chapter of a good book into your pre-bedtime routine. Don’t read on a screen, though — you’ve heard it many times before, screen time should end one hour before bedtime. Electronic screen light disrupts your body’s internal clock, stopping it from producing melatonin when it should. Even if it doesn’t stop you from falling asleep, you may experience a less restful night and have trouble staying asleep.

5. Develop an overall routine

It’s hard to force yourself to go to sleep at 9pm if you’re used to burning the midnight oil until well, midnight. But waking up is a whole different story. Set your alarm for a regular wake-up time and stick to it — even on the weekends. If you tend to hit the snooze button, position another alarm somewhere you have to get out of bed to access.

Your body gets used to sleeping at certain times and for certain amounts of time. Setting a regular wake-up time and sticking to it will push your body to start feeling tired at a regular — and hopefully — reasonable time every night. So try to stick to a consistent schedule, seven days a week.

Most people have trouble sleeping from time to time. But ideally, they’re able to get back on track and recover after a few days. If you find that you’ve tried these tricks and you’re still dealing with a lack of sleep, professional sleep help might be your next step to improve your overall sleep health.

A sleep therapist can analyze your individual sleep issues, including sleep disorders, and formulate a customized plan that’ll work for you, improving your quality of sleep. If lack of sleep is negatively affecting your life, our sleep therapists are here for you. Reach out today to book an appointment with a sleep therapist and take the first step towards a better night’s sleep.


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