Home / Health / Family / Sleep Deprivation and Healthy Sleep Habits
Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Sleep Deprivation and Healthy Sleep Habits

The importance of a good night’s sleep

Sleep deprivation is when an individual sleeps fewer hours at night or gets up in the morning unrefreshed. When sleep deprivation lasts for multiple days, it is called acute sleep deprivation; when it continues for three months or longer, it is chronic sleep deprivation. An estimated 50 to 70 million (25% of U.S. adults) have inadequate sleep. Some people may wake up multiple times at night, which can cause sleep deprivation. This is often due to medical issues such as diabetes, heart failure and even depression.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, adults aged 18-60 years need seven or more hours of sleep at night for good sleep health. Some people may sleep less or more depending on their needs, depending on genetic, medical or environmental factors. Children need different amounts of sleep depending on their age. For example, a 4-month-old baby will need 12-16 hours of sleep until a year old.

Our sleep cycles through different stages depending on how deeply we sleep. Initially, when we fall asleep, we cycle through lighter stages of sleep (stages 1 and 2) followed by deeper stages (stages 3 and 4), which are called non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). Usually, NREM sleep is followed by REM (rapid eye movement sleep). Rapid eye movement is named after our eyes’ movements as we sleep during this time. As we progress through the night, our deeper sleep becomes less and less until we wake up.

Research studies have shown that a lack of sleep can have physical and mental changes. We become drowsy during the day when we do not get enough sleep. Forty percent of adults report falling asleep during the day without meaning to at least once a month. We may feel irritable, anxious, tired or even depressed when we do not get enough sleep. Our work can also be affected, as lack of sleep may make us prone to make mistakes at work, have trouble concentrating or make poor decisions that affect our productivity.

Physically, our risk of cardiovascular disease and issues such as hypertension, heart attack, early aging, type 2 diabetes and obesity increases. Chronic sleep deprivation is also a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

One serious problem that occurs when we are sleep deprived is drowsy driving. There are 100,000 police-reported crashes yearly due to driver fatigue and feeling drowsy at the wheel. Many drivers who must drive for long hours, such as commercial truck or long-haul drivers, are at a higher risk for drowsy driving.

For some, there may be an underlying medical issue that is causing sleep deprivation, such as a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea. Talking to a doctor about this may be helpful as they can run diagnostic tests such as a sleep study. During a sleep study, a patient comes to a sleep lab with wires placed on different body parts to measure their sleep at night. The doctor may also ask for a sleep diary or rest questionnaires to help clarify what is being experienced.

What can we do to help us sleep better at night?

It is important to prioritize sleep with good sleep habits, such as watching what we eat or drink before bed, having a consistent bedtime routine, and ensuring our sleep environment is comforting and calming. The following are healthy sleep habits that anyone can implement in their lives:

• Watch what you eat before bed. Foods and drinks that disrupt sleep, such as fatty or fried foods, spicy meals, acidic foods and alcoholic, caffeinated or carbonated beverages, should also be avoided. A light snack like crackers or cereal is a better option if we are hungry before bedtime. Our last meal should be taken several hours before bedtime.

• Limit screen time before bed. Blue light, a high-energy visible light, is a type of light that can activate our brains. Electronic devices such as phones or TV should be limited before bed to promote better sleep.

• Consistency is key. A consistent sleep schedule involving going to bed and waking up at the same time every day promotes quality sleep.

• Make your sleep space calming. Our bedroom should be clutter-free and cool with a comfortable mattress.

• Bedtime routines can help promote good sleep. A calming bedtime routine such as stretching, meditating, praying or yoga may help our bodies settle down for sleep.

Sleep aids such as green tea may also help us with sleep. Melatonin, found in our brain, can give us restful sleep, especially if we have difficulty getting to sleep. Melatonin is available as a supplement at local pharmacies and can be given to children to assist their sleep as well. Another helpful sleep aid is regular exercise. Twenty to 30 minutes a day, five to six hours before bedtime, can positively impact the quality of sleep.

Healthy sleep habits help us improve our sleep quality and maintain our overall health. Don’t “sleep” on the importance of sleep!

Sheila J. Asghar, M.D., MSc, is a clinical assistant professor of neurology and pediatrics at LSU Health Shreveport.


The Forum News