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Understanding sleep deprivation and deficiency

Just like breathing, eating and drinking, sleeping is a basic human need. It is a vital part of good health and well-being for humans. However, such are the pressures of modern life that the one of out of every four people around us suffers from some kind of sleep disorder. The most common kinds of sleep disorders we hear of are sleep deprivation and sleep deficiency.

Sleep deprivation is explained as the lack of sleep. Sleep deficiency is a broader concept that apart from sleep deprivation, can be identified with sleeping at the wrong time of the day (which is a result of the body clock being out of sync) and results poor quality of sleep. Sleep deficiency has led to tragic accidents the world over and continues to put our entire race at risk.

Sleep deficiency decoded

Too understand sleep deficiency better, lets delve deeper into sleep, its mechanism and importance. The two basic types of sleep are rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. REM and non-REM sleep occur in a regular pattern of 3-5 cycles each night. We dream in the REM sleep phase, whereas the non-REM sleep is what we commonly identify as deep sleep.

We can only function to our optimum potential during the day if we get enough total sleep comprising of both categories of sleep. All of us have an internal body clock that controls our awakening and sleeping cycles. This clock follows a 24-hour repeating rhythm known as the circadian rhythm.

This is the rhythm that has an impact on every cell of our body. The disruption of the circadian rhythm can thus lead to a host of medical complications. Sleep deficiency can interfere with working, focussing and social functioning. Sleep deficiency can also impact children. Children who suffer from sleep deficiency may be hyperactive and may have lower attention span.

Who is at risk from sleep deprivation and deficiency

Sleep deficiency can impact all kinds of people at different ages. However, certain groups of people are likely to be more sleep deficient than others. These are people,

  • Who work for long hours at a job and have limited time available for sleep such as caregivers.
  • Those who have a conflict with their internal body clocks such as first responders, shift workers and have to travel often for their work.
  • People who make lifestyle choices such as alcohol or substance abuse to stay awake.
  • Those who suffer from psychological conditions such as anxiety, trauma and depression that are aggravated by the lack of sleep.

How and when to seek help

If you are constantly feeling fatigued during the day for the lack of sleep at night, you are most likely suffering from a sleep disorder and should seek help. However, visiting a doctor during your waking hours cannot help in diagnosis of sleep disorders and you have to prepare adequately to be able to answer questions related to your sleep disorder.

It is best to give the following questions some thought before you visit a doctor.

  • When do you go to bed and wake up? Does this routine differ in the weekends?
  • How long does it take you to fall asleep?
  • For how long have you been having trouble falling asleep
  • Do you snore loudly and wake up gasping for breath?
  • Do you find it difficult to perform simple daily tasks for the lack of sleep?

Diagnosis of sleep deprivation and deficiency

Doctors can identify a sleep disorder in a patient through a series of tools. They may use a sleep questionnaire that involves a detailed look at symptoms or troubles that a patient faces during the daytime. 

They may also ask the patient to maintain a detailed sleep diary for a couple of weeks that records time of going to sleep and waking up, number of awakenings, list of reasons that disturbed sleep, intake of caffeine and alcohol, physical movements, and mood swings that the patient may have experienced. A detailed review of all these factors over a period of time helps doctors identify the kind of disorder the person is experiencing.

Additionally, the doctor may conduct a physical examination and ask the patient to undergo certain blood tests to check for other medical conditions that may be interfering with sleep.

Different kinds of sleep disorders

Based on a detailed analysis of the tests, questionnaire and sleep diary, a patient may be diagnosed with one of the following sleep disorders:

Acute sleep deprivation-This refers to a short period of time when a patient has a significant reduction in his sleep time.

Chronic sleep deprivation- This can last for three months or more where the patient has trouble focussing on daily tasks as a result of sleep deprivation.

Chronic sleep deficiency- This is a condition that persists for a long period of time and comprises of episodes of sleep deprivation as well as other conditions such as fragmented or disrupted sleep patterns. Sleep deficiency also occurs because of other underlying conditions such as breathing disorders like sleep apnea and even pain caused by physical or psychological conditions.

Address, don’t cope with sleep disorders

Most people do not seek help with sleep disorders because they feel it is ‘normal’. Rather than addressing it, they look for quick fixes like alcohol that makes them drowsy, over the counter medication. Some even load up on caffeinated drinks to power through the daytime when tiredness sets in as a lack of sleep.

None of these are sustainable solutions and do not help address sleep deprivation. Instead, they only aggravate the condition over the long term. The right thing to do therefore is to address the issue at the core and focus on improving sleep hygiene.

The idea is to make a conscious decision to make sleep a priority and work towards it consistently. This involves developing a bedtime routine and following it through, setting boundaries at work and social life, customising bedroom environment, staying away from devices at least half hour prior to bed and getting physical exercise.

If doing these things do not help over a period of time, it is best to consider medical help.