How do you know if you're suffering from sleep deprivation and how do you treat it?
Not being able to sleep is probably the worst experience in the entire world ever.
You're lying there exhausted, trying to force yourself into some sort of slumber, anxiously counting down the hours until you have to get up again, anticipating the sheer tiredness that's set to overcome your body and ruin your entire day.
Essentially, it's not great.
There is a difference, however, between being a bit tired and suffering from actual sleep deprivation and insomnia.
According to the HSE, most people will suffer from sleep-related issues in their lives, and it is thought that almost one-third of people will experience insomnia.
The condition is, unfortunately for us, more common in women and more likely to occur the older we get.
So, what exactly are the symptoms of sleep deprivation?
It's more than being simply tired - sleep deprivation can affect people's mental health as well as their physical well-being.
Not only are sufferers going to be tired and unable to function as highly as they would have been after a good night's rest, but people with insomnia tend to be more irritable and even anxious during the day.
Why does insomnia happen?
There are a good few reasons as to why sleep deprivation may be triggered in a person.
One of the most common causes is stress - whether it be about money, family issues, or work, stressful situations tend to make your mind more alert as your brain tries to figure out a way to solve the problem at hand.
This can make it far more difficult to sleep, sometimes even continuing after the stressful event has been resolved.
Mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders (as well as certain medications that may come with treating those disorders) can also negatively affect a person's ability to sleep.
Physical conditions such as heart disease, chronic pain, and hormone problems can also affect a person's sleeping pattern (similarly, sleep deprivation can also be a symptom of physical conditions such as these or others listed on the HSE's website.)
Is it treatable?
Insomnia is often connected to other underlying conditions, so ensuring those are treated first is key to tackling sleep deprivation.
If you find yourself suffering from short-term insomnia (under four weeks) or long-term insomnia, go to your GP and they'll advise you on some good sleep hygiene methods.
- establishing fixed times for going to bed and waking up
- trying to relax before trying to sleep
- maintaining a comfortable sleeping environment
- avoiding napping during the day
- not intaking caffeine, nicotine and alcohol six hours before going to bed
- avoiding exercise within four hours of bedtime (although exercise earlier in the day is beneficial)
- avoiding eating heavy meals late in the day
- not watching or checking the clock during the night
- only using the bedroom for sleep and for sex
If your sleep deprivation continues, your doctor may prescribe you sleeping tablets, however these are not advised for long-term use.
There are certain behavioural treatments sufferers can also partake in such as relaxation training, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or stimulus control therapy.
Can you stop insomnia from happening in general?
If you're worried about developing insomnia, some of the above sleep hygiene tips are probably the most practical way to ensure that you can still get a good night's kip.
Or, if you're having trouble sleeping and simply want to feel a bit more refreshed in the morning, there are a few simple changes you can make to help send you off to sleep that bit quicker, including meditating before bed, making the room darker, and playing soothing sounds.
Oh, and stop using your phone before bedtime. You'll notice a real difference in how well you sleep.