Have you ever fallen asleep at your desk, or felt like you were going to? There are many reasons that an individual might need more sleep, and there are just as many reasons that you might not get enough sleep. If you’re a college student or someone who works long hours and late nights, you know that a busy schedule can impact your ability to get enough sleep. You might stay up studying or working and find it difficult to unwind and fall asleep at the end of the day.
Sometimes, people believe that staying awake is a way to get more work done, but this is actually counterproductive. Rather than helping you, sleep deprivation is more likely to diminish your quality of work and decrease your ability to retain information. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts your physical and mental wellbeing in a variety of ways. It can cause irritability, anxiety, and even long-term physical effects such as higher blood pressure over time. When we struggle to sleep due to anxiety, it can create a cycle of sleep deprivation that’s brutal to be stuck in. It’s a grim irony; you’re deprived of sleep because you’re anxious, but your anxiety levels are raised due to lack of sleep. How can you tell if sleep deprivation is feeding into your anxiety? More importantly, what can you do to help yourself fix this problem?
What is sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation, simply put, is when you don’t get an adequate amount of sleep. Some people who experience sleep deprivation have a sleep disorder such as insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, or restless leg syndrome. For others, it’s a matter of poor sleep hygiene, stress management, or other health conditions like those outlined above. While sleep deprivation is common, it isn’t something to ignore.
Symptoms of sleep deprivation
How do you know if you’re experiencing sleep deprivation? There are a number of reasons as to why a person might be sleep-deprived, but especially if it’s something you’ve become used to over time, or if you believe that you can get by without as much sleep as other people, you might not realize that not sleeping enough is impacting you. Here are some symptoms of sleep deprivation to look out for:
Anger or agitation
Decreased ability to retain information
Decreased ability to concentrate
In some cases, sleep deprivation can even lead to psychosis and hallucinations. Long-term sleep deprivation is related to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and mental health conditions.
Symptoms of anxiety
If you’re deprived of sleep and think that it might be due to an anxiety disorder, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 19.1% of adults in the United States live with an anxiety disorder of some kind. Here are some symptoms to look out for if you believe that you could be struggling with anxiety:
- Feeling as though you’re in danger when you aren’t
- Feelings of panic or dread
- Persistent, pervasive worrying
- Heart palpitations or rapid heart rate
- Nausea or stomach upset
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability or angry outbursts
- Intrusive thoughts
If you notice the symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, or sleep deprivation in yourself, it’s important to speak to a medical or mental health professional that you can address your concerns with.
One of the most important things that you can do to help yourself get a good night of sleep is to practice good sleep hygiene. The American Sleep Association defines sleep hygiene as “behaviors that one can do to help promote good sleep using behavioral interventions.” Here are some things that you can do every night to promote a healthy sleep schedule:
- Try to fall asleep and wake up at roughly the same time every day
- Make sure that your sleeping area is a quiet, distraction-free place
- Make sure that your sleeping area is of a comfortable temperature
- Consider leaving pets outside of your bedroom if they interfere with sleep
- Leave electronics outside of your sleeping area or turn them off
- Limit caffeine and consume it in the morning only
Before going to bed, you want to avoid bright lights such as those from your cellphone and make sure that your bedroom is dark. Some people find it helpful to meditate before bed; you can try a guided meditation or meditate on your own if you think that it might aid you in falling asleep. It’s crucial to feel calm when trying to fall asleep because being stressed out or nervous can keep you awake, which is why it can be beneficial to do things that promote a sense of calmness before bed. Having a night-time routine that you practice every evening can help you to wind down and fall asleep. Consider a warm shower, bath, or even a calming skincare routine to help you relax before bed. Exercising during the day typically helps to promote better sleep at night, but some people find that being active right before bed keeps them up, so be mindful of that if that’s the case for you. Certain foods can help people fall asleep such as nuts, milk, cherries, or bananas. If you include a cup of tea in your bedtime routine, make sure that it’s of the caffeine-free variety.
How to stop the cycle
The first thing that you need to do to curb sleep deprivation is to get to the root of the problem and find out why you’re deprived of sleep. Maybe, you struggle with a mental health condition such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or PTSD, and your symptoms are keeping you awake at night. If this is the case, the most important thing that you can do is seek treatment for the core issue that’s causing you to struggle with sleep. If avoiding caffeine and practicing overall good sleep hygiene isn’t enough, and you feel that your sleep deprivation stems from anxiety or any other mental health condition, seeing a mental health provider can help. A licensed counselor or therapist can help you treat your anxiety and find healthy coping skills that will help you feel more at ease so that you can get on a steady sleep schedule and prevent the long-term effects of sleep deprivation.