What is Chronic Sleep Deprivation
Chronic sleep deprivation is frustrating, and even debilitating. It involves long periods - weeks or months - of less than adequate sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can take a toll on one’s body, mind, and life. If you have been living with chronic sleep deprivation, you likely hardly need to be told this. The important questions are, what are the consequences of untreated sleep deprivation, and what can you do about it?
You should be getting at least 7 hours of sleep per day, and overcoming sleep deprivation means finding way to get that amount of sleep. Overcoming chronic sleep deprivation may involve making small or radical changes to your life – it all depends on why you are chronically sleep deprived. An extremely important step in trying to get back to healthy sleeping is identifying what the root cause or causes for your sleep deprivation are. There are any number of causes, but they generally stem from:
- A sleeping disorder such as insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, parasomnia, etc.
- Medical conditions
- Chronic pain
- Chronic stress
- Lifestyles choices
- Work hours (i.e., shift work)
- Natural, biological changes (we sleep differently as we get older)
- In Alaska, the extreme dark/light can also be a major factor
Identify the cause of your chronic sleep deprivation is an important step, but it’s not the first step. First you need to identify that you are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. Understanding what consequences and symptoms of sleep deprivation that you are already dealing is critical for this first step.
Let’s look at the various life-consequences and symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation in terms of:
- Medical consequences
- Cognitive consequences
- Emotional and psychological consequences
- Performance consequences
- Social consequences
- Sexual consequences (yes, sleep can greatly affect your sex life!)
Medical Consequences of Chronic Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation will affect your medical health, over time. The primary medical consequences of chronic sleep deprivation are increased risk of:
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Sickness, due to weakened immune system
- Poor balance
- Serious accidents (i.e., falling asleep at the wheel)
- Chronic headaches
- Clinical exhaustion where the body begins to break down (hair falling out, for example)
Prolonged sleep deprivation will increase these risks.
Cognitive Consequences of Chronic Sleep Deprivation
Chronic sleep deprivation affects your ability to think well. It can make you feel like you are hardly thinking at all! Consider all of the various ways the following cognitive consequences of chronic sleep deprivation can affect your life:
- Brain fog
- Learning problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Trouble staying on topic
- Trouble with memory, such as forgetting simple things
- Slower, less efficient, and worse at performing cognitive tasks
- Chronic daytime fatigue and lethargy
- Sudden sleep attacks during the day
If you are familiar with attention deficit disorder (ADD), you will notice that most of the above symptoms are consistent with ADD symptoms. The effects of chronic sleep deprivation mimic ADD. Especially for children who exhibit signs of ADD, ruling out sleep deprivation as a potential cause is very important.
Emotional and Psychological Consequences of Chronic Sleep Deprivation
Your ability to regulate your emotions and psychological health can be profoundly affected by chronic lack of sleep. The emotional and psychological consequences of prolonged sleep deprivation include:
- Inability to have a sense of well being
- Feeling like a different person
- Chronic anxiety
- Chronic irritability
- Quick temper (when you might normally not be)
- Overly emotional
- Inability to manage stress
- Other mood troubles
Sexual Consequences of Chronic Sleep Deprivation
If you want to have a good sex life, getting the requisite amount of sleep will certainly help. Low labido and erectile dysfunction can be cured simply be eliminating chronic sleep deprivation.
Libido is partly regulated by emotional and physical energy. Emotional, cognitive, and physical exhaustion hurt, or even kill, your libido.
For men in particular, sleep is especially important for erectile function and libido. Men replenish testosterone during sleep. Without testosterone, men are at great risk for suffering from erectile dysfunction and further reduced sex drive.
Studies show that sleep problems often lead to sexual problems for men. One study, for example, found that in 531 men, patients who slept 4 hours or less had half as much testosterone as patients who sleep 8+ hours. Other studies have been remarkably consistent with their findings, with several other studies citing the ED sleep apnea link at 40%, 46%, 61%, 64%, and 69%.
General Performance Consequences of Chronic Sleep Deprivation
Other than cognitive, psychological, emotional, and medical health, chronic sleep deprivation can also seriously impact an array of other parts of your life moderately or severely. These include hampered performance in:
- Athletics (see: The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players)
- Endurance activities
Chronic sleep deprivation may keep you from performing well at work – it can lead to the loss of a job if your performance at work is critical. The hampered ability to focus and learn can be catastrophic for academic performance. In athletics, sleep deprivation will lead to at least a 10% loss in total performance (endurance, accuracy, etc.).
Sleep deprivation hampers your ability to perform physical tasks for extended period of time and build muscle. Fatigue and exhaustion come quicker when you are tired. Feeling “off”, sluggish, and anti-social are natural responses to being tired all the time, which hurt close relationships and friendships.
If these symptoms describe you, and you are sick and tired of being tired all the time, reach out to us. Our sleep specialists can help. Start by taking this free online sleep test.